Intersectionality and health: how can we tackle barriers to care?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Ms.Kaivalya Mannem, a twenty-year-old medical student at Siddhartha medical college, a college under Dr.NTR University of Health Sciences, Andhra Pradesh, India. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Intersectionality is a paradigm which hypothesizes the multi-dimensionality of healthcare in terms of race, gender, caste, income, education, sexual orientation of a person, ethnicity, and much more. This has divided society into the privileged and the underprivileged. The term was originally coined by Kimberle Crenshaw to describe the discrimination against black women.

Though the healthcare system across the globe is evolving and advancing with each passing day, the intersectional approach to treating patients is still at its inception. There have been many instances where a person has been denied medical care purely based on implicit bias, misogyny, sexism, and racism leading to avoidable deaths. The cause for this kind of disparity in providing healthcare is deep-seated and people belonging to the minority groups face this very often from “womb to tomb”.  Although sensitivity among policy makers towards ethnic, gender, religious and racial inequalities in care has increased over time, there is hardly any unanimity when it comes to what should be done to reduce this imbalance.

As  Kimberle Williams Crenshaw rightly said, “If we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks”, to tackle the barriers to care, the inculcation of intersectionality has become the need of the hour. An intersectionality approach helps us understand the underlying condition of the patient better and also provides proper statistical data for research. This thus, aids policy makers to develop people-centric strategies focusing on the specific requirements of every fragment of the social strata and attain the objective of universal well-being. A scrutiny of intersectionality helps us understand that we are all in reality complex human beings defined and influenced by several identifying factors.

Barriers to care can be tackled efficiently only if the people as a whole agree to take a step forward towards a society where prejudices and myths are left behind and equality, humanity, and empathy prevail.

Some measures which can be implemented for a healthy society include:

  • Raising public and provider awareness of racial/ethnic disparities in care1;
  • Expanding health insurance coverage2 backed by the government;
  • Improving the capacity and number of providers in underserved communities3;
  • Increasing the knowledge base on causes and interventions to reduce disparities4;
  • Recruiting people of various ethnicities and gender in the health care workforce
  • Including workshops and activities in schools to eliminate implicit bias among children and also to develop an overall understanding of diversities.

 Therefore, for the development of an egalitarian society, it is imperative to incorporate changes right from the grassroots by giving proper recognition to intersectionality in every domain and voice to the struggles of minorities. This alone can break all barriers that stand in the way of attaining unconditional healthcare for care is a basic necessity and must not be denied to anyone on any of the aforementioned heavily unfair grounds.


About the author

Ms.Kaivalya Mannem is a twenty-year-old medical student at Siddhartha medical college, a college under Dr.NTR University of Health Sciences, Andhra Pradesh, India. She is a member of MSAI where she is a part of the human rights committee(SCORP). She firmly believes in giving her best in every activity she does and is an avid music lover.

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