Over the past four years, Ganesh Rakh has delivered more than 464 babies for free. Having your baby delivered for free (especially in the U.S., where is costs thousands of dollars to give birth in a hospital) sounds like an awesome perk for any expectant parents, but for this doctor in Pune, India, the decision to offer his obstetric services without charge speaks of a much deeper, disturbing issue in society. Over the course of 50 years in India, the ratio of girls to boys under the age of seven has dropped from 976 girls for every 1,000 boys to 914 girls. The father of a daughter himself, Rakh found himself wanting to help stop female foeticide and infanticide with a unique and appropriate solution for a doctor.
In some parts of India, there is such a strong preference for boys, that while the birth of a male child is celebrated with sweets and a gathering in the hospital of family members, the birth of a female is treated as a tragedy. As Dr. Rakh said, “The biggest challenge for a a doctor is to tell relatives that a patient has died. For me, it was equally difficult to tell families that they’d had a daughter.” With the more widespread use of antenatal sex screening in India and the likelihood that some of these pregnancies would be terminated due to confirming a female fetus, Dr. Rakh found himself offering a new type of birth experience for girl babies. In addition to free deliveries for female births, Dr. Rakh and his staff celebrate the birth of the child with flowers, a cake, and singing.
Although some members of his immediate family were not initially in favor of his decision, Dr. Rakh understands the financial struggles of many of his patients since he grew up in a poor family as well. He has been actively campaigning for other hospitals to offer free births, and has also been continuing to raise public awareness of the issue locally in the hopes of changing the societal norm. While he has gained attention in India from government officials and support from other doctors has been promised, Rakh worries about the long-term financial implications of his generous decision for his family and his hospital, saying “I want to change attitudes-of people, doctors. The day people start celebrating a daughter’s birth, I’ll start charging my fee again. Otherwise, how will I run my hospital?”
Lead image © Anushree Fadnavis via BBC