By Peter Baker
International Journal of Men's Social and Community Health
Director, Global Action on Men's Health
Men’s Health Week 2019, which starts on 10 June, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It started in the USA in 1994 and is now also marked in Canada, Ireland, the UK, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. It may not yet be truly global but it is definitely an international event that has succeeded in significantly raising the profile of men’s health and almost certainly making a contribution to improved male health outcomes.
Since 1994, global male life expectancy has risen from 64 to 70 years, according to World Bank data. The male mortality rate fell by 225 per 100,000 men to 178. Healthy life expectancy for men also rose, from 57 to 62 years since 2000 alone, according to WHO. Men’s health has also become a topic of increasing interest to the media, health policymakers and health practitioners as well as individual men and women. It was a hugely significant moment when, in September 2018, the WHO European Region’s 53 member states approved a comprehensive (albeit non-binding) men’s health strategy.
But major men’s health problems remain. A recent analysis shows that, of the 40 leading causes of death globally, 33 contribute to a lower life expectancy in males than in females. Alcohol consumption per capita globally is four times higher in men than women. Tobacco smoking rates are five times higher in men than women globally. Death rates from road injury are twice as high in men as women and mortality rates are four times higher in men globally. The probability of a man aged 30 dying from a non-communicable disease before 70 is 1.44 times higher than for a woman aged 30.
While individual men have a responsibility to look after their own health, it is important not to blame those who do not for their apparent recklessness. Men, like women, can be disempowered as a result of poverty, racism, homophobia or personal history. Men also cannot easily escape from the social construct known as the ‘Man Box’, the masculine gender norms they have been brought up with and which underpin many of their harmful health practices.
The vast majority of health policies and services have not taken men into account. A recent study suggests that Malawi’s national recommendations for routine health care address women’s needs only, that men’s relative absence from health services contributes to high rates of male morbidity and mortality, and that men need to be successfully engaged within the health care system. Only three countries (Australia, Brazil and Ireland) have national men’s health policies. Most global health organisations do not address men’s health.
The recent report on men and self-care from Global Action on Men’s Health suggests a much more effective way forward, one that requires a comprehensive, systematic and gender-responsive approach. This includes:
The benefits of better men’s health would not be confined to men. The burden of male morbidity and mortality on health expenditure is significant and investment in measures to improve outcomes would prove cost-effective. Better men’s health would also contribute to better health for women. Safer sex practices by men would clearly prevent the transmission of a wide range of infections and their consequences. Addressing men’s mental health issues, including alcohol and drug misuse, could also help to reduce male violence against women, children and other men.
Men’s Health Week will continue to highlight these issues and men’s health organisations will continue to raise them throughout the year. It must be hoped that it will not take another quarter century before they begin to be properly addressed.
Global Action on Men’s Health’s report, Who Self-Cares Wins: A global perspective on men and self-care, was published in April 2019.