Just over two hundred men from across the length and breadth of South Africa gathered on the 7th and 8th of July this year at the Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria. The men came together at the invitation of the South African Men’s Action Group (SAMAG) to discuss issues of men’s health. Experts and activists from the health professions and civil society organizations presented reports on prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular diseases, alcohol and drug abuse, and more. The summit thereafter deliberated on the programme, looking at areas of health that affect men and have been proven to be the causes of poor health.
The summit discussed, among other things, the state of health of South African men and ways in which men can be encouraged to adopt health seeking behavior in order to enhance their general wellbeing and quality of life.
The idea of a men’s health summit was a recommendation from a series of SAMAG dialogues on men’s health related topics. These sessions revealed high levels of ignorance about health issues amongst men and the silent pain some men endure in the face of serious diseases and conditions such as prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.
A summit seemed like an effective way for those working with men and health to share their experiences, concerns and ideas for a synergised plan to engage men in taking action to improve their own health of themselves and the health of their families.
A health disaster waiting to happen
Instead of seeking help, many men would rather suffer in silence than visit health institutions, in the belief that health care environments are hostile to male patients. The high number of female health care personnel in public health institutions fuels this stereotype and feeds into the chorus of adult men who often refuse to discuss intimate and personal health matters with women in general, and younger women in particular, some regarding it as un-African.
There is also a lack of scientific data about the realistic level of men’s health needs, and what interventions would be appropriate to offer health services to men. The summit viewed the lack of studies in the field with seriousness and resolved to motivate for funding specifically for men’s health related research topics.
This lack of research leaves knowledge about men’s health needs to suspicion and guesswork. The summit reasoned that there should be a higher number of men than presently estimated who have serious health problems, who are either unknown or undetectable. If no effort is made towards changing the status quo of poor health seeking behaviour, the country’s ability to plan accurately and effectively for provision of health services will be severely hampered. This has adverse consequences both for the state of health in our country and for the nation’s economy. Although there is no comprehensive body of evidence in South Africa in the area of how men use health services, there is enough anecdotal evidence that warrants our concern about the state of men’s health in our country. It is the determination of the summit that something needs to be done urgently to stall the impact of lack of health seeking behaviour amongst men.
Time for action
The health summit resolved to lobby all key stakeholders for the development and delivery of a national health monitor that will assist health economists and administrators to gain a better understanding of how men use health services and what is needed to promote access to health services. The summit also resolved to formulate broad principles for the review of current health policies, specifically in relation to how they affect men. Lastly, SAMAG was mandated to develop a discussion paper that maps a strategic input to the National Health System to increase the equitable access of health services by men and women.