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eBulletin blog

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  • June 2024: Men's Health Week is here

    Men’s Health Week is here: a time to be positive about men’s health

    It’s International Men’s Health Week once again. In fact, this is the 30th Men’s Health Week since its launch in the USA in 1994.

    This is, I think, a good time to be positive about men’s health rather than focus, as we often do, on all the problems. There can be no doubt that, over the past 30 years, men’s health organisations, advocates and researchers have succeeded in pushing men’s health onto policy and research agendas and influenced the way many services are delivered. Eight countries now have national men’s health policies and we have good evidence of the impact such policies can have. There are currently active discussions about the introduction of a policy in the UK. The WHO European region published a men’s health strategy in 2018 and PAHO (the WHO region for the Americas) wants to see their adoption in more countries. The Movember Institute of Men’s Health was launched in December 2023 and will both accelerate research and translate it into practical real-world outcomes. It will complement the great work already being done at the Center for Men’s Health at Georgetown University, the University of British Columbia, the National Centre for Men’s Health in Ireland and elsewhere. We now have solid evidence of ‘what works’ in men’s health that we can use to convince politicians and policymakers that investing time and money in men’s health will make a difference.

    The men’s health sector is building effective alliances with other organisations, often ones with more resources and influence. GAMH is working closely with the European Cancer Organisation, for example, and I co-chair its men and cancer workstream. There’s growing activity at the grassroots level, with Men’s Sheds just being one example. There are now Sheds in Australia (where the movement started), UK, Ireland, USA, Denmark, Canada, Sweden and New Zealand. The International Men’s Sheds Association estimates that some 1,800 Sheds are supporting 100,000 men worldwide. There’s been major progress on the clinical front too. Only last week research was announced showing that a spit test, which could be conducted at home, is more accurate at identifying prostate cancer for men at high genetic risk of the disease than the current standard blood test. This could lead to much earlier detection of aggressive cancers and much better outcomes for many men. Prostate cancer screening programmes are likely to be introduced across Europe in the next few years.

    I could go on at length but I will mention just one more important positive development. As a movement, we are now talking less about men as a homogenous group and are focusing much more on specific groups of men with the worst health. This could apply to men in low-income countries and, in higher-income countries, to men who are ethnically and racially marginalised, on low incomes, gay/bisexual/transgender or homeless. This ‘intersectional’ approach is essential if we are to make an impact where it is most needed and to create more equitable outcomes.

    This brief overview of what’s going well will, I hope, encourage all of us to continue our much-needed work. We clearly still have a long way to go and men’s health may not yet be mainstream but it is definitely no longer at the margins.

    I wish our members, and the men they work with, a very happy Men’s Health Week.

    Peter Baker
    Director

  • May 2024: Pioneering paper backs call for men’s health policies

    Pioneering paper backs call for men’s health policies

    This may be a first: a major paper in a prestigious medical journal has called for specific health strategies and national plans to tackle the ‘significant health challenges faced by males’. The authors stress that progress on health strategies for men has so far been slow with only a few countries publishing designated policies.

    The paper, published this month in Lancet Public Health, looks at differences across the lifespan between females and males for the top 20 causes of disease burden globally and is based on an analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021 (see graphic above). It found that females are more likely to be affected by non-fatal conditions such as musculoskeletal conditions, mental health problems and headache disorders while males are disproportionally affected by conditions that lead to premature death, such as COVID-19, road injuries, cardiovascular disease and respiratory and liver diseases. It concludes that males face a higher disease burden overall.

    The study recommends that policy initiatives ‘need to recognise the different health-seeking patterns of males and should, among other strategies, engage in cross-sectoral actions, including working with the social and education sectors to promote positive and healthy gender norms and roles at all levels of education, to address behavioural risks that are globally more common among males, such as smoking and alcohol use.’

    GAMH and many of its members will continue to make the case for national men’s health policies as well as for more regional policies, following the example of the WHO European region which published a men’s health strategy in 2018. This Lancet paper adds hugely to the evidence-base that is needed to persuade governments to act and is a sign that our policy messages, for a long time somewhat niche, are now cutting through to wider audiences. The men’s health sector must take full advantage of this new research and the opportunity it presents.

    Peter Baker
    Director

  • April 2024: Prostate cancer cases worldwide expected to double by 2040

    Prostate cancer cases worldwide expected to double by 2040

    One of the most significant and thorough reports in global men’s health to date was published by The Lancet on 4 April. It presents the findings of The Lancet Commission on prostate cancer: planning for the surge in cases. While we know, of course, that men’s health is about much more than prostates or even urology in general, it cannot be denied that prostate cancer is set to become a massive health issue. As the Commission report notes,  prostate cancer is already a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide – it is the most common cancer in men in 112 countries – and the number of new cases is expected to double (from 1.4m to 2.9m a year) between 2020 and 2040. And there is no certain way of preventing this increase through public health interventions.

    What the Commission proposes, therefore, is a range of strategies to deal with the problem. These include tackling late diagnoses, especially in low- and middle-income countries (with trials of screening in these countries), using artificial intelligence to aid the interpretation of scans and biopsy samples, developing outreach programmes that use smartphones as tools for prostate cancer education, researching the drivers of ethnic differences in disease prevalence (rates of prostate cancer are twice as high in men of African heritage compared to men of European origin), ensuring a more equitable distribution of treatments for advanced disease, and addressing the shortage of specialist surgeons and radiotherapy equipment. The Commission supports prostate cancer screening in high-income countries focused on men aged 45-69 in Black populations and 50-69 for others. Interestingly, because the rise in prostate cancer is likely to be mirrored by rises in other conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, the Commission suggests that early diagnosis programmes should focus not just on prostate cancer but on men’s health more broadly.

    It is of course possible to quibble with some of the Commission’s findings. It is disappointing, for example, that there was so little emphasis on potential prevention measures, such as investigating the possible protective impact of HPV vaccination.  The age ranges proposed for screening programmes will also be too restrictive for some advocates in the prostate cancer field. But, overall, the Commission should be congratulated for a producing a comprehensive report of genuinely global relevance, for helping to raise the profile of prostate cancer and men’s health generally, and for providing the evidence that GAMH and other organisation can use in their advocacy work.

    GAMH is currently working on a report on prostate cancer that is scheduled for publication in the fourth quarter of 2024. We will consult with our members on a draft as soon as it is ready. But, in the meantime, please tell us what you think of the Lancet Commission report, its strengths and weaknesses, and any issues you think we should be paying particular attention to. You can contact us at office@gamh.org.

    Peter Baker
    Director

  • March 2024: Effective advocacy will improve men’s health

    Effective advocacy will improve men’s health

    Last week, I attended the UK government’s new men’s health ‘task and finish’ group. Its role is to develop practical ways to improve men’s uptake of primary care services. The group is meeting at the same time as Parliament’s ‘Select’ Committee on Health and Social Care conducts an enquiry into men’s health and the Department of Health considers applications for the new role of men’s health Ambassador. Recently, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, visited a Men’s Shed and the main opposition (Labour) party’s health spokesperson, Wes Streeting, announced his intention to introduce a men’s health strategy in the UK.

    None of this happened by accident. It follows decades of sustained advocacy work by men’s health and other men’s organisations in the UK. This, in turn, builds on a growing body of scholarship and the practical experience of a range of community projects. But it is the advocacy element that is crucial. It brings the research and good practice to the eyes and ears of decision-makers, including government ministers, and makes it easier for them to see the advantages of taking action.

    One of the main barriers to progress in men’s health worldwide has been the lack of advocacy work by the men’s health sector. Partly this reflects limited resources and capacity. It also reflects what it is possible to get funding for – generally service delivery, not campaigning – and an understandable belief that policy change in our field is just too difficult and takes too long to achieve.

    But there are now signs of real change, and not just in the UK. Movember is investing heavily in policy development and advocacy across its six key national markets. Men’s health organisations in Denmark, the USA, Australia and elsewhere are actively engaged in advocacy. GAMH’s primary role is making the case for the policy changes that will improve men’s health at the international level. We are working with the European Cancer Organisation to push for HPV vaccination for boys to be introduced across the region.

    If we are serious about achieving our goals, we need to intensify our advocacy effort and make a case that decision-makers can no longer ignore.

    Peter Baker
    Director

  • Feb 2024: King Charles shows how men’s stories make a difference

    King Charles shows how men’s stories make a difference

    Even the most vehement republican must acknowledge that the publicity surrounding the UK King’s recent health problems have highlighted men’s prostate and cancer issues to an unprecedented extent.

    We are told King Charles, 75, underwent routine surgery for an enlarged prostate and, while in hospital, it was discovered that he also had cancer of a currently undisclosed type. The King has withdrawn from public duties while he receives treatment.

    On the day after the announcement of his enlarged prostate, there were 16,410 visits to the relevant National Health Service website page compared with 1,414 visits the previous day. Prostate Cancer UK saw an almost doubling in the number of users of its online risk checker. For a while in the UK media, it was difficult to avoid urologists talking about the prostate and all the things that can go wrong with it.

    Whether this will result in significantly more men being diagnosed earlier with prostate disease or cancer remains to be seen. But it is highly likely that the public discussion of the issues, combined with the King’s willingness to be open about his health, will at the very least have led to a greater awareness of the prostate and men’s health more generally. This can only be a good thing.

    It shows the impact those in the public eye can have when they raise the profile of a health issue and, perhaps even more importantly, the power of people’s personal stories. These can be the stories of all of us, not just of the rich and famous. Men’s health organisations are very good at making a robust evidence-based case for change. But science, research, data, statistics, graphs and charts can only get us so far. It is the emotion and authenticity that comes with someone’s lived experience of a health problem as well as the empathy it can generate that can really cut through and make the difference.

    Of course, it can be hard, for reasons we all understand only too well, to find men who are willing to share their stories publicly. But it is certainly not impossible and I’m convinced that the men’s health sector as a whole needs to get better at combining ‘hard’ evidence with lived experience if we are to make the progress we all want.

    Peter Baker
    Director

A new paper from Australia provides insight into a topic we perhaps don't talk about enough: men’s health literacy and the factors impacting it

For a while, research has suggested male sperm counts have tumbled in the past 40 years. But a recent study appears to question this. ‘Spermageddon’, a podcast from UK newspaper @guardian asks: is male fertility really in crisis?

In South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Thamsanqa Ntuli has encouraged men to prioritise their health as the province observes Men's Health Month

Train to be a Men's Health Champion. The ideal way to build on your work during #menshealthweek and embed men's health in your workplace. Next course: 16th/18th July - 2 x 2 hours. Places still available. Details and booking: https://shop.menshealthforum.org.uk/collections/training-for-men/products/health-champions-training

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