Cosmetic surgery is being offered free of charge in a government-run clinic in Tamil Nadu. Procedures offered include breast alterations, cleft lip repairs and hand transplants. The offer of breast surgery has been the focus of much of the media coverage surrounding the policy.
The clinic already offers free reconstructive surgery for cancer survivors, but will now provide free breast alterations to the poor free of charge. This is whether they are for medical or cosmetic reasons. This is in a bid to stop those in poverty turning towards ‘dangerous methods or [taking] huge loans’ according to the state health minister, C. Vijaya Baskar.
Dr V Ramadevi, the clinic’s head of plastic surgery, says there are a number of reasons why patients may seek to alter the size of their breasts. These can range from boosting confidence to relieving back and shoulder pain. ‘There is no reason this surgery should be restricted from the poor,’ she says. Such procedures typically cost Rs 80,000 (1,233 USD) in private hospitals according to BBC News.
A waste of resources?
Some are criticising the initiative as a waste of resources. The state’s former public health director, Dr S Elango, says the money should be allocated to help fight communicable and noncommunicable diseases. He says ‘it is sad we are now focusing on beauty instead of life-saving surgeries.’ Daily News & Analysis reported there was a social media backlash to the policy.
Media reports are largely emphasising the state’s offer of cosmetic surgery – ‘publicly funded boob jobs’ in particular. However, the initiative will cover other procedures such as cleft lip repair for children, treatment of advanced wounds, injury management and bilateral hand transplants.
The initiative is well-intentioned. Cosmetic surgery can be psychologically and physically beneficial. Ensuring it is performed safely and affordable is a noble goal. At the same time, criticism of the scheme is understandable. The idea of prioritising ostensible beauty treatments over life-saving surgeries is contentious. Many would prefer public funds be allocated for essential care and treatment.