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Indian state offers free breast implants, hand transplants for the poor

Indian state offers free breast implants, hand transplants for the poor
The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu will now offer free cosmetic surgery, including breast implants, cleft lip surgeries and hand transplants to the poor. Authorities made the announcement Wednesday.

"We have been doing surgeries to reconstruct entire breasts or a part for cancer victims,” head of plastic surgery Dr V Ramadevi said, as cited by Times of India. “Now, we plan to do surgeries for those who want to increase or reduce their breast size. As a plastic surgeon I don't judge women when they seek surgery. If they are fit I recommend.”

Funding for the cosmetic surgeries will initially be drawn from the department of health, but officials are seeking additional financing from the state health insurance provider, United India. The government-run Stanley Medical College in Chennai will handle all of the taxpayer-funded cosmetic operations.

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“There is a psychological benefit. Many girls who have larger breasts don’t like to go out. There is no reason this surgery should be restricted from the poor,” Ramadevi added, according to The Guardian. The procedure will also be available to men.

Cosmetic surgery is a growing industry in India, as the population becomes wealthier overall. More than 390,000 procedures were carried out in 2010, rising to 420,000 in 2016, according to figures from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. 33,000 breast augmentations were carried out in India in 2016 compared with 50,600 in 2010. Controversial 'limb-lengthening' surgeries to artificially increase a person’s height have also grown in popularity.

Speaking on the merits of offering free cosmetic surgery to the poor, Health Minister C Vijaya Bhaskar says the move is ostensibly aimed at preventing people from turning to the black market, risking their lives and livelihoods in the process. “If we don’t offer [the procedure for free], they may opt for dangerous methods or take huge loans for it,” said Baskar. “Why should beauty treatment not be available to the poor?”

Tamil Nadu's government is known for generous social programs, particularly under former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who introduced free food canteens and provided venues and jewellry for weddings. This latest move is not without its critics, however.

“[It] sounds populist, but it is not an ideal public health programme,” former public health director for the state, Dr S Elango, told the Times of India. “State funds are required for emerging non communicable diseases and communicable diseases. It’s sad that we are now focusing on beauty instead of life-saving surgeries.”

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