Men’s Health in Ireland 2021 – Against All Odds!
24th Jun 2021
Earlier this month, the Society of Actuaries in Ireland published its findings regarding a gender bias in the deaths caused by Covid-19 in the population of Ireland. Being within the second year of our pandemic experience, they thought that there may now exist enough granular data for a valid analysis. Their findings presented in a media statement concluded that “once a person had tested positive for Covid-19, they were at least 25% more likely to die if they were male”. They found this to be consistent internationally. ‘Global Health 50/50’, a charity which campaigns for gender equality in health, reports that where countries have published data, significantly more men than women have died from Covid-19. ¹
Why this is so is open to conjecture, but many expert opinions point to male life-style habits as well as clinical reasons. Higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption amongst men are thought to contribute to higher co-morbidity rates such as obesity, diabetes, heart and liver disease etc. In April 2020, Sam McConkey, Professor of Medicine, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was quoted in the Irish Times: “I’m happy to speculate that men in general do not look after themselves. We drink too much and we smoke too much and we do not go to the doctor.”₂
Men Behaving Badly
So it seems to be well documented that men might make worse lifestyle choices than women, and may not seek medical advice as quickly as they should. Whether these are the sole causes for the gender imbalance, or whether there are additional reasons attributable to differences in biology, it is the behaviours we can tackle ourselves. Men’s behaviour is the theme chosen for International Men’s Health Week 2021 and promoted in Ireland this month by the’Men’s Health Forum in Ireland‘ (MHFI). The campaign is supported by the HSE and the Public Health Agency.
Making the Connections
The 2021 campaign’s aim is to give “individuals, health professionals, service providers, sporting bodies, community groups, employers, policy makers, the media, churches etc. an opportunity to encourage men and boys to take better care of their health and to seek help or treatment at an early stage.” The tag line to the men of the island of Ireland is ‘check in, check up and check it out’. Focus is on ‘making the connections’, promoting a greater male uptake of health services.
The Health of Men
There has been an abundance of research carried out on the health of the men of Ireland, with much of the data being made available to the public.
National Men’s Health Policy – In 2009, the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to adopt a National Men’s Health Policy, followed to date by only three others: Australia, Brazil and Iran.
National Men’s Action Plan – The above policy was most recently reviewed in 2016, and succeeded by a focused National Men’s Health Action Plan ‘Healthy Ireland – Men’ (HI-M 2017-2021). This action plan tackles the issues of gender disparity in areas such as life expectancy and mortality. It finds further inequalities within the male population impacted by forces such as socio-economic, together with global events such as migration & economic recession.
Men’s Health in Numbers – In 2020, the Men’s Forum of Ireland prepared an Irish Men’s Health Trends Report₃ and Report Card⁴ titled ‘Men’s Health in Numbers’. This project focused upon headline statistics, broad trends, and important issues affecting men’s lives during a fifteen-year period. Facts such as “Cancer is now the leading cause of death for males” (Source: CSO Vital Statistics series) jump from the page. It makes for very interesting reading.
Men are doing it for themselves
The National Men’s Health Action Plan employs a gender-specific approach proven to be most effective in male engagement. Activities of communities and individuals are also embodying this method, with self-help groups such as the ‘Irish Men’s Sheds Association’ reporting exponential growth (where men can seek solace, share skills & work toward a common purpose). Male sports and celebrity personalities are becoming advocates for other men.
A gender-specific approach is adopted in many areas within our modern hospital setting. As an example, the specialty trajectory of ‘Urology & Andrology’ develops a holistic bent over recent years as men’s life-style and personal requirements are attended to alongside their clinical needs. Allied Health is orbiting the surgical route. Prehabilitation exercise can now form a crucial part of a pre-surgery regime, seeing the Urology Nurse and Men’s Pelvic Physiotherapist work with the patient for optimum post-surgery recovery. Preventive approaches are used in areas such as Cardiology, Colo-rectal, Oncology and Urology, where gender-specific screenings and clinical surveillance are employed. Men’s health screening options are available within our Health Check programme.
“What is past is prologue”
The message to the men of Ireland 2021 comes in two lessons: Lesson 1, is to improve our health habits in order to positively address the health of our nation. The figures emerging from reports on Covid-19 give a snapshot of where we are now, and an opportunity to engage with our health responsibly. We can’t predict the future, but there are some certainties: men are living longer and we are becoming an ageing population, with consequent predictions of higher incidence of some cancers and chronic conditions. Our family and health history is often where doctors now look to help with diagnosis and lifestyle advice, discovering what conditions we might be predisposed to and mapping us away from them. This preventive approach is a great asset in our future health toolbox, if we engage with it. As Shakespeare put it, “What is past is prologue”. Lesson 2, is don’t put off seeing your doctor and do be up front with them.
- https://web.actuaries.ie/. 2021. Higher risk of death among male Covid-19 cases. [online] Available at: <https://web.actuaries.ie/news/21/06/higher-risk-death-among-male-covid-19-cases> [Accessed 14 June 2021].
- McGreevy, R., 2021. Coronavirus: Why are men twice as likely to die as women?. [online] The Irish Times. Available at: <https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/coronavirus-why-are-men-twice-as-likely-to-die-as-women-1.4222408> [Accessed 14 June 2021].
- Devine, P. and Early, E., 2020. Men’s Health in Numbers: Irish Men’s Health Trend Report 2020. [ebook] Dublin: MHFI. Available at: <https://www.mhfi.org/> [Accessed 14 June 2021].
- Devine, P. and Early, E., 2020. Men’s Health in Numbers: Irish Men’s Health Report Card 2020. [ebook] Dublin: MHFI. Available at: <https://www.mhfi.org/> [Accessed 14 June 2021].