In South Africa, the men’s HIV coaching initiative Coach Mpilo estimates there are around 2 million men living with HIV who are not on treatment.
That doesn’t even begin to take into account other serious conditions that affect them, such as cancer and depression.
According to the World Health Organization, of the 13 774 suicides reported in South Africa in 2019, 10 861 were men. There are several factors that influence men to take their own lives – that goes without saying.
However, it speaks directly to the importance of seeking medical care and advice as soon as possible for a definitive diagnosis and effective treatment.
The question we need to ask ourselves is why is there such a huge disconnect between men and healthcare services. To begin with, healthcare literacy is crucial, experts around the world concur that understanding common disease symptoms is vital for early diagnosis and the efficacy of treatment.
When their health is in jeopardy, men frequently feel uneasy and afraid. Men are more likely to suffer anxiety even before receiving their diagnosis since they are often breadwinners for their families. Worry manifests in a variety of ways, such as thinking about what their diagnosis would mean for their families and livelihoods.
Ultimately, men’s social conditioning leads to gender norms that are harmful to them, leading to disease and neglect in their lives.
What can we do to address this chronic gap?
In addition to addressing systemic challenges, we need to begin talking openly and honestly about illness, health and well-being without fear of judgment.
A prime example of proactive measures in men’s health is Anglo American’s adoption of the Coach Mpilo programme, which works in communities to support HIV-positive men in taking control of their status and regaining a healthy, safe, meaningful life. The coaches assist the guys they work with in reaching a place where they may live openly and confidently with HIV, free of fear and stigma.
As a result, in 2016 Coach Impilo aligned their HIV/Aids targets to the UNAids 90/90/90 strategy, which means 90% of our people living with HIV know their HIV status; 90% of those diagnosed with HIV are receiving sustained anti-retroviral therapy; and 90% of those receiving anti-retroviral therapy have viral suppression, meaning the viral load is so low as to be undetectable.
By 2021, Anglo American had achieved zero HIV/Aids-related deaths and an incidence rate of 0.01%. Removing stigma, building an environment in which men can come forward to get tested, and creating a supportive space for treatment have all contributed to men enjoying improved health and well-being, despite their HIV status.
The key lesson from programmes like Coach Mpilo is that the bonds of trust that develop between the coaches and their teams create space for brand-new discussions about issues that specifically affect men, such as what it means to be a dedicated father, what it means to be a supportive partner, how to handle money, how to identify and treat mental health issues, and even how to actively speak out on the scourge of violence that plagues so many of our communities.
Perhaps creating spaces that are safe for men to challenge each other on attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that are harmful not only to their own well-being but also to those close to them is a strategy we need to employ to combat the ever-increasing social issues in South Africa.
Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.