Stop the institutional blindness to men's health

For the past twenty years or more, the men’s health sector in Australia and around the world has been advocating for more male-friendly services.

One of our central claims as a sector is that men care about their health and will get help when we place more focus on the ways that we give help.

This concept is now being recognised in Africa with experts saying there is an urgent need to tackle institutional “blindness to men’s health” and address the fact that men have a have a greater burden of nearly all major diseases.

A team of academics from Los Angeles, Colorado and Cape Town (South Africa) have published new research on the unequal approaches to men’s and women’s health in Malawi, in southeastern Africa.

The research found that policymakers, donors and international agencies have prioritised women’s health services for decades. The academics say that while there is an increasing awareness of the fact that men’s health has been neglected, global money, international and national priorities continue to focus on the health of women and children.

As a result, “women are deeply engaged in the health system” with clinics in having a “distinctly feminine flavour”. The researchers claim that while “focusing routine health care almost exclusively on women” has improved women and children’s health, it also has negative consequences on both men’s health and women’s equality.

Routine health services mean women are expected to attend between 176 and 433 health services over their reproductive lifespan (from the age of 15 to 44), compared to only 30 services for men.

Accessing health services in Malawi is a time-consuming endeavour and women spend six times as long seeking health services as men do. This increased time burden is said to deepen existing gender inequalities and limit women’s success outside the home.

In order to become more female-friendly, say the researchers, health services need to reform to reduce the time burden on women. At the same time there needs to be more focus on men’s health.

The researchers found that excluding men from routine health services has perpetuated a “tough man” mentality and reinforced notions that men should wait until they get ill before seeking care. They say there is an urgent need for strategies to engage men in health services by providing “broader male-friendly health services that are available after hours, quick, private, and outside female-focused settings”.

For this to happen, the academics say there also needs to be wider systemic change with donors and international agencies facing up to their “blindness towards men’s health”.

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FURTHER READING: Malawi's Health System Puts Women First

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