Kiran Coelho and Lilavati Hospital work to eliminate infanticide in Mumbai
Dr. Kiran Coelho, the head of gynaecology at Lilavati Hospital, hardly needs an introduction. With a client list ranging from Bollywood A-listers to Mumbai’s glitterati, she has, quite literally, seen it all. Approaching her 30th year of practice, she, along with Lilavati hospital have embarked on a new mission: to ‘Save and Empower the Girl Child.’
Launched in 2012, the program takes a multi-pronged approach to combating female foeticide—by providing mobile health camps complete with nutritional, dental and ocular facilities, on site camps and check-ups, as well as free access to their OPD clinics for girls. Through this, they hope to address the many health issues that women in rural and underprivileged India face, and to start a conversation about why female foeticide occurs and why girls are important to the progress of the country.
This year, they have pledged to complete 50,000 check-ups for underprivileged and rural girls through their mobile camp program, starting Jan 24th, National ‘Girl Child’ day (we think every day should be girl child day). At the time of this interview, Feb 6th, they have completed 854 full health check-ups in over 14 municipal schools which we think is highly commendable.
Their bi-annual fundraiser to raise awareness for this issue is star studded with an impressive list of dignitaries and a-list celebrities, all coming out to support the cause. Some of the Badal Ja! team members were able to atten the show this year and we were blown away by Shaimak Davars choreography as well as the panel discussion.
Badal Ja!: How and why did you choose to tackle the issue of female foeticide?
Kiran Coelho: Being head of Gynaecology at Lilavati hospital, I deal with many of the issues that plague women daily and I have the greatest amount of empathy towards them. With all the news and increase of violence against women, myself and the trustees at Lilavati hospital felt that we needed to do something to contribute to change on the ground level. Many of the issues that women face happen before they are even born; it is in part because we place such a burden on having a girl child that women are later marginalized by our society.
BJ!: What are the initiatives and impact you are trying to achieve?
KC: We are providing healthcare and education/awareness to rural girls by creating mobile health camps, fully equipped with optometrist, dental, & nutritional requirements.
In the last two years we have screened 51,000 people, and we have pledged this year to do over 50,000 free check-ups for girls exclusively through these camps.
We have also tied up with Teach For India to identify underprivileged municipal schools where we can give lectures on hygiene, nutrition as well as partake in check-ups.
Lilavati Hospital has also started free OPD hours for girl children from 3-5pm. This includes a full physical check-up. If surgery is required, we will also go as far as to sponsor them and have the procedure done at no cost to the family, including the follow up. And then of course, our final initiative is the bi-annual awareness event.
BJ!: The year is 2020—and India has eliminated all infanticide in the country. We are getting awards globally for this progress. What are the three key things we did to get here?
KC: Firstly, by generating awareness and dialogue around the issues, we must strive to shift the mind-set of the people and the culture. We must propagate the idea that both a boy and girl are valuable assets in the house. Women need to be stopped treated like a burden, especially with the continuing practice of dowry. Even though it is banned by law, it is the mindset of the people that has to change in order for that to be enforced well.
Secondly, by educating and empowering girls we can strive to make girls self-sufficient and have a voice in society. In all of India, it is estimated that only 56% of girls go to school. Along with this, giving women equal wages and responsibilities in the workplace is required for the shift. Providing adequate maternity leave as well as day care centres to allow for the 21st century working woman.
Lastly, I believe strongly in empowering the Indian man to be more involved in the nuclear family. There is little emphasis in our culture in the role of a man as a caregiver. We tend to place more emphasis on him as a provider. For the shift to take place, we must promote equal responsibility for the care of the child at home in order to bring balance to the household.
With all these combined measures, I feel we could really shift the heart of the people to allow for more effective implementation of the anti-foeticide and dowry laws that are already in place, allowing us to tackle female foeticide in a proactive way.