Boosting Men’s Utilization of Healthcare ServicesDecember 17th, 2021
“I haven’t visited a doctor in years!” When was the last time you heard that statement from a man? Quite possibly, it was not that long ago. Numerous studies have pointed to a situation across the world where men, for some reason – or perhaps for several reasons – are seemingly unwilling to engage with health services. Osongo Akinyi, a 26-year-old Correspondent from Kenya writes, healthcare professionals and advocates need to assure men that seeking health-related services is in fact quite normal.
Studies show women are more likely to seek out healthcare than their male counterparts. In Africa, it is no different as men continue to lag behind women in this regard. For example, a survey conducted in Malawi among 1,453 women and 407 men found that approximately 60% of the women and 22% of the men made at least one healthcare visit over a two-month period. Additionally, women spent six times as long as men seeking care – with an average 6.4 hours for women over the period compared to one hour for men. As much as men understand the importance of health, factors such as toxic masculinity, patriarchal views, cultural values, and societal norms prevent them from seeking mental healthcare, medical check-ups, and general preventive healthcare.
In Western Kenya, ‘male clinics’ were initiated after men mentioned that gender norms and related barriers prevented them from seeking health services in an industry dominated by female health workers. However insignificant they may seem in the modern world, gender norms and stereotypes about masculinity, play a significant role in hindering men from accessing health services.
Kenyan mental health advocate and trauma therapist, Onyango Otieno, leads a mental health support group for boys and men where they receive professional help to heal their childhood and adulthood trauma. For Otieno, seeking healthcare services, especially mental health services, does not make a man any less of a man. In a world that mistakes speaking up about one’s issues as vulnerability, or that mistakes vulnerability for ‘weakness’, Otieno believes that what is needed are more safe spaces for men to seek mental health services without fear of judgment. Healing from trauma and other mental health issues begins when they are given the freedom to be emotional and ‘weak’. In this so-called ‘weakness’ lies the strength to heal the body and soul, Otieno argues.
Steve Ougo, a Global Health Advocate, also urges men to be deliberate about making decisions regarding their healthcare. He wants them to fight back against societal norms and toxic masculinity by proactively seeking health services for issues considered taboo in African society, such as mental health and sexual and reproductive health.
Ougo participates in community awareness programmes via roadshows to amplify the voices of men and encourage them to seek preventive healthcare and utilize health services. He argues that the issue can only be tackled head-on, otherwise, deep-rooted barriers will intensify and prevent men from engaging with healthcare professionals. However, he notes that policies and changes implemented must consider the opinions of men in order to be successful at encouraging them to seek and utilize these services.
To help tackle the issue, healthcare professionals and advocates need to conduct health education that assures men that seeking health-related services is not a sign of weakness. Constant organization of seminars and programmes that reinforce the benefits of accessing appropriate healthcare will boost men’s utilization of these facilities. Health professionals, advocates and society also need to work together to dismantle toxic masculinity, patriarchal views, as well as negative cultural values and societal norms. Doing this will create safe spaces where men will be confident that their healthcare needs can be met confidentially, sensitively, and nonjudgmentally.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock
About Osongo D. Akinyi: I am a digital journalist. I aspire to tell stories of women in Africa venturing into careers such as fashion, politics, science, and engineering. I want to tell stories of women who, like me, are making huge footprints on earth.