Over 98% of gender-based violence survivors not accessing healthcare a concern: MSF
It is worrying that over 98% of Gender-based Violence (GBV) survivors do not access healthcare as such experiences may have long-term physical and psychological consequences, said Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in a statement released on Wednesday on the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-V) data on GBV.
“This latest data reflect a dismal state in the practice of seeking medical care post gender-based violence, including sexual violence. Current estimates reflect that healthcare-seeking behaviour (HSB) among the survivors is still near zero,” said the statement.
MSF emphasised that over 98% of gender-based violence survivors, as recorded in the new survey data, do not access healthcare due to the absence of comprehensive medical care available in close proximity to vulnerable groups, as well as the fear of mandatory police reporting.
“The uptake of medical care is essential as sexual violence and intimate partner violence have well-documented, long-term physical and psychological consequences. Women, exposed to sexual and physical violence, need immediate medical care to prevent pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and mental health support to reduce psychological distress and restore dignity,” said Dr. Himanshu M of MSF.
The group added that several studies in India indicate that the suffering of survivors is only compounded further by lack of knowledge of health consequences, lack of social/ family support to access health services, fear of stigma and shame by society, fear of undignified treatment by health care workers, and fear of police and legal processes.
The statement further said that since family and friends become the first point of contact for survivors, as demonstrated by NFHS-V data, it is imperative that their capacities are built. Out of all the women surveyed, only 14% came out to seek help, but 77% never spoke about the abuse or sought help.
MSF is now advocating for proactive sensitisation of such groups to offer immediate support to survivors, who may be in dire need of medical and/or psychosocial care. This is crucial in ending the deep-rooted culture of silence around gender-based violence in India.
NFHS-V further shows that 45.4% of women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife, 30% of women experience gender-based violence with at least 6% experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime. Given the scale of the problem and its health impact, gender-based violence should be considered a public health emergency, said MSF.
The group recommends a public-funded programme to provide a comprehensive care package for gender-based violence survivors — one that is closer to the community.