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Noncommunicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, injuries, and violence take greatest toll

Washington, D.C., November 20, 2012 (PAHO/WHO) - Men in the Americas live 5 to 7 years less than women on average, the leading causes of death being noncommunicable diseases, HIV/AIDS, injuries, and violence, reported the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) as it observed International Men's Day on November 19.

Launched by Trinidad and Tobago on November 19, 1999, more than 60 countries worldwide are observing International Men's Day this year to promote peace, nonviolence, equality, tolerance, and understanding. This year's slogan is "Helping men and boys live longer, happier, healthier lives."

"Raising awareness, building the capacity to generate evidence about inequalities, and developing new responses are where the work of PAHO and its partners intersects today," commented Isabel Noguer, Senior Adviser for Gender, Diversity, and Human Rights at PAHO/WHO during a panel discussion that the Organization held on the health situation of men in Latin America and the Caribbean, masculinity issues, and health.

During her presentation, Noguer talked about the causes of mortality among men and women aged 20-39 in Caribbean countries from 2000 to 2006. Noting that most gender inequalities begin in adolescence, she observed that "knowing the causes of death and understanding gender differences makes it possible to tackle the main health challenges of men."?

The data show that the five leading causes of death among men in the Caribbean are infectious diseases, assaults, traffic accidents, suicide, and cardiovascular disease. Other health problems that men in the Region face are diabetes, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, mental illness, and prostate cancer.

These causes of male morbidity and mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean are linked to gender, culture, human rights issues, and addictions, which are contributing to a large number of noncommunicable and communicable diseases. Risk-taking, not consulting a physician, and not following drug regimens are interconnected variables that influence men's health.

In addition to Noguer, the panelists included Ernest Pate, PAHO/WHO Caribbean Program Coordinator; Jerome Teelucksingh, founder of International Men's Day; Joseph Vess, Senior Program Officer at the nongovernmental organization Promundo; and Carolina Bascones, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the PAHO Staff Association.

When he spoke, Vess maintained that "improving men's health also benefits women's and children's health," encouraging attendees to consider what it means to be a man and how that affects health.

In his view, the dominant cultural views of masculinity are barriers to seeking help and can lead to behaviors that are detrimental to health, such as the use of drugs to change one's body and become more muscular. "Men have an image of masculine strength and do not hear enough messages saying that masculinity isn't necessarily that," he said.

Vess also noted that men traditionally play the role of provider in their families. When they cannot fulfill that role, they suffer from stress and depression, which jeopardize not only their health but that of their families and communities. One study has shown higher rates of physical and sexual violence against women and greater alcohol use among unemployed men, said the Promundo representative.

The Pan American Health Organization addresses men's health in various ways, promoting an approach that includes the whole life course, with special emphasis on family and community health, and strong cross-cutting priorities in gender, human rights, ethnicity, social protection in health, primary health care, and health promotion.

PAHO approved its Gender Equality Policy in 2005 and has been implementing its Strategic Plan of Action 2009-2014. PAHO's Member States and Secretariat recently produced a first monitoring report that critically examines the efforts made to achieve gender equality in health programs. Advances have been seen in all the countries; however, the report recommends that progress be made in measuring the gaps in men's and women's health status and in their access to health care throughout life. A broad consensus on how to improve responses calls for building evidence of health inequalities, focusing on the specific needs of boys and men and girls and women in the populations of the Hemisphere.