Lack of men’s health strategies may have cost lives in pandemic
Shocking new report from leading charity reveals devastating impact of gender-neutral health policies
The particular vulnerability of men to COVID-19 is directly linked to the historic neglect of men’s health, according to a major new report from the charity Global Action on Men’s Health and an accompanying Lancet paper.
While scientists continue to investigate the exact reasons why men are around twice as likely as women to die from COVID-19 coronavirus, there is a strong medical consensus that the explanations include an interaction between physiological and social factors. In particular, COVID-19 appears to be particularly deadly for people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart conditions, and lifestyle-related susceptibilities including obesity, smoking and alcohol intake.
These factors all disproportionately affect men, and would and could have been addressed by government-level men’s health strategies, according to the report. It states that if men’s health had been systematically addressed before the pandemic, especially for men in the most economically and socially disadvantaged groups, the virus would almost certainly have had a less dramatic impact.
While it has not been possible to quantify excess deaths, the report details a pervasive lack of interest and care for men’s health among the world’s governments, which laid the foundations for COVID-19’s devastating death toll.
The report’s author, Peter Baker, told Gendemic:
“We just don’t know enough about the virus yet, and men probably have a biological vulnerability to COVID that little could be done about, in the absence of a vaccination or effective treatment.
“What we can say is that, up to 5 June, there were about 5,000 more male than female deaths from COVID in England and Wales. That excess burden (about 20% of the total number of male deaths), or much of it, might have been avoided if previous action had focused attention on men’s health and the achievement of greater gender equity.”
Men’s health campaigners have been frustrated for many years by the failure of governments to respond to evidence of the value and effectiveness of men’s health strategies. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, men were known to be at disproportionate risk of illness and death. In 2016, a 30-year old man had a 150 per cent greater risk of dying from any of the four major non-communicable diseases before the age of 70 than women.
Despite this, calls for a systematic men’s health strategy have been ignored by policy-makers and politicians of all parties, in the UK and most other countries.
In 2017 the UK’s then Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies replied to requests from the Men & Boys Coalition to state that she had no plans to conduct an annual report into men’s health, despite having published a detailed and extensive annual report into women’s health strategy in 2015.
In 2018 all 53 members of the WHO European section agreed a men’s health strategy, to complement the women’s health strategy released in 2016. To date, the UK governments have taken no steps to implement its proposals.
On the global picture, only four countries have an active men’s health strategy: Australia, Brazil, Ireland and Iran.
While the GAMH report acknowledges some improvements at the transnational policy level, including improved engagement with the issues from WHO and UN bodies, among the men’s health specialist professional surveyed for the report, 67% said the way health and wellbeing of men and boys is currently treated as a policy issue is either unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory.
For more about Global Action on Men’s Health, visit their website here.