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19 March 2013 – Following the publication of the European Commission’s report on The State of Men’s Health in Europe (2011), Health First Europe attend the event held in the European Parliament entitled “Time to improve men’s health:  the next steps for the EU?”. Focused on how to concretely improve the health of European men going forward, the event was hosted by MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D, Denmark) and brought together leaders in men’s health as well as the European Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Tonio Borg, to consider how the EU can best support men to improve their health and well-being.

Opening the event, Ms. Schaldemose reflected on the outcomes of the Commission’s report which clearly show men have a lower life expectancy than women and declared that, “Policymakers can do something about it.”  The gender equity aspect of healthcare was continued by Mr. Svend Aage Madsen, a co-author of the Commission’s report who provided an overview of men’s health particularly in Denmark, namely:

  • Difference of 6 years in life expectancy as compared to women
  • Self-perceived health for men is good, even though actual health is not
  • One of the strongest determinants of poor health is being single – divorce is a strong indicator of health (and divorce is rising)
  • Men often come to the doctor when it is too late

Dr. Ian Banks from the European Men’s Health Forum, expanded on Mr. Madsen’s statistics and highlighted the importance of communicating with men in the right way for them, giving them what they want and need to know.  Discussing how disengaged most men are with the health services in the United Kingdom, Dr. Banks commented that “men use GPs very little when they are younger and only go when they are older – usually over 50.  There are twice as many men in emergency care which is the most expensive part of medicine.”  He reminded the audience that men’s health is not about a battle against women’s health rather both men and women have a responsibility to take care of each other.

A key aspect that must be addressed in men’s health is suicide.  Hans Jorgen Knudsen of Lifeline Denmark explained that men are more prone to suicide and prevention is particularly important as it is the principle cause of death for men aged 30 – 39.  In 2007, more than 40,000 men were lost in the EU due to suicide compared to 12,000 women.  He suggested that there is a significant problem of undetected, untreated depression which often times can arise due to a loss of control or power.  Men find such circumstances particularly difficult to deal with.

Showcasing how governments can tackle many of these health issues for men, Dr. Noel Richardson presented the Men’s Health Strategy in Ireland. Developing the policy over 10 years, Dr. Richardson described the steps involved in not only creating momentum and a mandate for policy, but outreach to stakeholders and particularly inter-sectoral and inter-departmental meetings to ensure men’s health policies were taken into account in horizontal policies.  Ireland is focusing on 5 specific areas including: men’s health week (awareness-raising), men’s health training, gender-mainstreaming framework, community development and health in the workplace.

Closing the event, Health and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Tonio Borg discussed his personal experiences with stakeholders and stories of health inequalities and discrimination which can lead to reduced health outcomes for men and women.  He shared how in certain areas, there is still the thinking that, “if a men comes to emergency care with chest pain, it is assumed to be a heart attack.  If a woman comes to emergency care with chest pain, it is assumed to be depression.” He described ways in which the Commission is supporting initiatives on men’s health, women’s health and reducing health inequalities and discrimination.  He said that the Commission will continue to focus on prevention including a conference in 2014 specific to that issue.  The Commission will also be holding two upcoming events on discrimination in healthcare and the gender dimension in health.  These initiatives are in addition to a Joint Action recently launched on mental health as well as an upcoming Joint Action on chronic diseases.

There was considerable commitment from all participants to improving the health of men and therefore the health of society.  Underlining the need to consider specific health action plans for each gender (as they face particular difficulties) will be an important factor moving forward to facilitate more healthy living years for all EU citizens.