NEW DELHI - The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu is offering publicly-funded breast implants to its people, including those who want it solely for cosmetic reasons, the Guardian newspaper reported on Friday (Feb 23).
"Why should beauty treatment not be available to the poor?" C Vijaya Baskar, the state health minister, was quoted as saying.
"If we don't offer [the procedure for free], they may opt for dangerous methods or take huge loans for it."
The free service was launched on Wednesday by the state health department at a clinic in the capital Chennai, the Guardian said. The clinic had already been providing breast reconstruction surgery for cancer patients, but was now extending the service for people who wished to alter the size of their breasts for other health or cosmetic reasons.
The head of plastic surgery at the clinic, Dr V Ramadevi, said some of her patients sought breast reduction to alleviate shoulder and back pain, while others sought to augment or shrink their breasts for a boost in confidence.
"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," the surgeon was quoted as saying.
The procedure would also be available to men, she said.
Cosmetic surgery has slowly grown in popularity as Indians have became wealthier, with about 420,000 procedures performed in 2016, compared to about 390,000 six years earlier.
According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, there were about 33,000 breast augmentation surgeries carried out in India in 2016, the most recent year it published statistics, versus about 50,600 procedures in 2010.
But among the men the figure has grown, according to the same group, with 25,640 seeking breast reduction in 2016, an 11,000 increase on 2010 figures.
Tamil Nadu's government is known for its largesse, particularly under former chief minister Jayalalithaa, who pioneered free food canteens and doled out wedding jewellery and venues to the poor.
A former public health director for the state, Dr S Elango, criticised this latest scheme. "[IT] sounds populist, but it is not an ideal public health programme," he told the Times of India.
"State funds are required for emerging non communicable diseases and communicable diseases. It is sad that we are now focusing on beauty instead of life-saving surgeries."