Breakthrough for men’s health: WHO and experts kick off development of strategy and report

Åsa Nihlen

For the first time, WHO is undertaking a strategy entirely focused on the health and well-being of men and boys. A group of experts from a range of fields and disciplines related to men’s health came together on 5 September 2017 at UN City in Copenhagen, Denmark, to launch the development of the strategy for the WHO European Region.

The strategy will be supported by a report reviewing the evidence on topics such as addressing premature mortality, the intersection between masculinities and existing inequalities, health systems responses to men throughout the life-course, and the role of men in promoting gender equality in health. The report will provide a framework to guide and inform the development of country-specific policy responses to improve men’s health.

In opening the expert meeting, Dr Piroska Östlin, Director of the Division of Policy and Governance for Health and Well-being at WHO/Europe, said, “This work is groundbreaking at WHO. We hope that the work that we are doing here in the European Region will also inspire work at the global level.”

Increasing attention and growing demand for new policies on men’s health

As Dr Gauden Galea, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Disease and Promoting Health through the Life-Course, highlighted, the high level of premature mortality among men of working age in the eastern part of the Region has been observed for such a long time that many countries see it as unmodifiable.

However, there is much to gain from interventions that aim at reducing this excess mortality, and this is one of the drivers of the initiative. At the same time, the demand has grown for policies and actions that engage men in transforming roles and norms to help further gender equality. A mounting body of evidence supports the idea that gender-responsive approaches to promoting men’s health can have positive effects on the health of men, but also on the health and well-being of women and children.

With these factors in mind, experts convened to advise and support WHO/Europe as it begins developing the report on men’s health in the Region, and the subsequent strategy. The meeting’s objectives were fourfold:

  • to discuss feedback on the framework and outline of the men’s health report;
  • to identify gaps that will strengthen the evidence supporting the strategy;
  • to identify ongoing processes and research in the Region that can support the
    development of the report and the strategy; and
  • to suggest recommendations for data collection, research and action for men’s health and well-being over the next 10 years.

Taking a unique approach to men’s health

The report and strategy are expected to be presented at the 68th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2018. They aim to take a unique approach to men’s health by bridging 2 spheres of action – addressing challenges for men’s health while also engaging men in the gender equality dialogue. Both have been furthered by the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly through work to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3 (ensure health and well-being), 5 (achieve gender equality) and 10 (reduce inequalities).

Following the publication of the report “Women’s health and well-being in Europe: beyond the mortality advantage”, European Member States adopted the Strategy on women’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region and the Action plan for sexual and reproductive health at the Regional Committee in 2016. The documents serve as a platform to highlight the importance of the role of men in achieving gender equality, and the need to address the impact of masculinities and socioeconomic determinants on men’s health.

The work initiated at the expert meeting will form the next logical step in this important area, resulting in a strategy focused specifically on the health and well-being of men and their role in promoting gender equality.

As one participant put it, “This is the breakthrough in the men’s health field that many of us have been hoping for, and advocating for, for many years.”