A Clinic in India Is Giving Free Breast Implants to the Poor

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Programs helping the poor generally include things like housing, food and education assistance—not elective cosmetic surgery. However, a clinic in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu just announced that it will be offering free breast implants to men and women of low income, The Guardian reports.

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The free service was announced by the Tamil Nadu state health department and will be offered at a clinic in Chennai. While this clinic has already been offering breast reconstruction surgery for cancer patients, it'll now be giving both reductions and implants for those looking for a cosmetic fix. “Why should beauty treatment not be available to the poor?” said C Vijaya Baskar, the state health minister. “If we don’t offer [the procedure for free], they may opt for dangerous methods or take huge loans for it.”

Dr. V Ramadevi, head of plastic surgery at the clinic, claims this access to cosmetic surgery is important for patients, especially those looking to reduce their breast size. “There is a psychological benefit. Many girls who have larger breasts don’t like to go out,” she says, adding that breast reduction surgeries can be vital in alleviating shoulder and back pain for many women. “There is no reason this surgery should be restricted from the poor.” 

Although—speaking purely from a cosmetic perspective—Miami plastic surgeon Sean Simon, MD argues that this publicly funded service isn’t a smart move for the clinic, calling it “a waste of resources.” “Breast augmentation has been proven to have psychological benefits for patients such as feelings of well-being, self confidence and self esteem, however this [program] discusses performing free breast augmentations for members of the poor population in India," says Dr. Simon. "Using valuable and scarce resources on breast augmentations is an absurd idea and these resources would be better spent on food, shelter, education, improving overall living conditions, and jobs."

Dr. Simon isn't the only one to feel this way, as the decision is causing also controversy in India. The former health director for the state, Dr. Sukanya Elango, told the Times of India that this “is not an ideal public health program,” adding that these state funds are required for medications and treatments to eradicate emerging diseases. "It is sad that we are now focusing on beauty instead of life-saving surgeries," he argues.

Obviously it's important for resources to be allocated to life-saving treatments and surgeries, however, it's proven that breast augmentations can have health benefits outside of cosmetic enhancement. Plus, it's unknown how many people turn to the black market to get breast augmentations, therefore these free surgeries may end up being a roundabout way of potentially saving the lives of those who would normally opt for risky, under-the-radar procedures. Ultimately, only time will tell if this service will have a positive impact on women in Chennai.