By Dr. Dennis Bassier – Men’s Health Coordinator, Ministry of Public Health
The Ministry of Public Health acknowledges the link between gender and health as this week we celebrate with the rest of the world, International Men’s Health Week, under the theme ‘The Impact of Inequality and Deprivation on Men’.
We admit that, as a consequence of their gender, men and women have different health needs and dissimilar health outcomes. Based on this fact, we have created a separate unit in the public health sector that concentrates specifically on our male population. The interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral strategy of the Ministry’s Health Vision 2020 is the blueprint to help us address the health needs of our men and boys.
Sadly, our males, generally, have poor health-seeking behaviours. They seek help only when their illnesses have gone too far. Prostate cancer is taking a toll on our men and is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths among Guyanese men. African-Guyanese men are 5 times more likely to die from cancer of the prostate than other men in our society. Other cancers are wreaking havoc among our male population too: colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death for Guyanese males in Guyana, followed by lung cancer and testicular and other cancers.
Our men are also vulnerable to cardiovascular (heart) diseases and mental illnesses such as depression. Suicide among our men is also high, so are diabetes and obesity. Men are also at increased risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Men living in the remote parts of Guyana (hinterland areas) are more likely to die prematurely, and from causes classified as ‘avoidable’.
Nine of the top 10 determinants of health risk are behavioral, and therefore preventable. These are risks linked to smoking, high body mass index, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical exercise, alcohol abuse, use of illicit drugs, and diet low in fruits and vegetables.
Men living in rural communities also have greater difficulty accessing healthcare although they need it more badly than their coastal counterparts. Sadly, indigenous men will live almost 19 years less than men of other ethnic groups in Guyana because of their poor diet, loss of identity, trauma and depression.
To help reverse these trends, the Public Health Ministry is taking steps to mainstream men’s health in its programmes to ensure more positive and effective ways to reach and engage men, especially those with the poorest health (generally in hinterland areas), so that they have the best opportunity to reach and maintain optimal health.
We are on target to establish at least one ‘male friendly’ health facility in each of the 10 Regions by 2020. These will offer comprehensive, demand-driven health services to help satisfy men’s the needs.
We know this is an ambitious plan that will not happen overnight. Getting men to change their health behaviours will not happen in a hurry either. “One, one dutty build dam!” We will persevere though with sensitisation programmes through multi-media programmes, medical outreaches and partnerships with other government and private sector bodies.
We in the Men’s Health Unit envision healthy communities throughout Guyana. In our blueprint, the male must be the pivot around which this dream is fulfilled, because today’s boys are tomorrow’s men.
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