Global health researcher Vyoma Dhar Sharma had just embarked on a trip to India as Covid-19 began sweeping through the population and overwhelming hospitals. It has taken a terrible toll on her country – and her family
August 25, 2020 – It is pouring by the time my taxi reaches Oxford’s Gloucester Green bus station. I dash through the rain towards the Heathrow bay as the X90 coach pulls in. The driver gets down to smoke a cigarette and we talk – about Covid-19, natuurlik. He says he does not know of a single person who has died of this disease. “You only hear it on the news. Eerlik gesê, unless people start dropping dead on the street, I’m not believing it”.
A few hours later I am on an Air Indië repatriation flight to New Delhi, flying home for fieldwork. My study explores how global public health policy, scientific research and medical practice affect women’s health in India. Global health research is driven by statistical and empirical methodologies, typically sidelining people’s experiences of illness and care-seeking within health systems.
And while gender is widely recognised as a major factor when it comes to good health outcomes, the focus on women’s health is normally limited to reproductive function. This leads to a systematic marginalisation of health issues, such as menopause, uterine prolapse or cervical cancer – all of which lie beyond pregnancy and childbirth. So my work is driven by the need to understand how these issues effect the health of women in countries like India and how they experience the health systems which are supposed to be looking after them.