The European Men's Health Forum and the European Cancer Patient Coalition launched The State of Men’s Health in Europe Report at the Forum Against Cancer Europe (FACE) Workshop on Men's Health on 14 June 2011. Denis Horgan of the European Cancer Patient Coalition reports.
Today, June 14th, a wide range of stakeholders involved in men’s health gathered in the European Parliament in Brussels. This event marked a turning point in national and international political attitudes to men’s health. This issue is not yet sufficiently understood or addressed at the policy level.
The event was based on and inspired by the report on The State of Men’s Health in Europe, which was commissioned by the DG SANCO and authored by a number of leading experts in the field. Contributors Professor Alan White from Leeds Metropolitan University (UK), Dr Svend Aage Madsen from Copenhagen University Hospital (Denmark) and Dr Noel Richardson, IT Carlow (Ireland) presented a number of the key findings of the report. The presentations astonished the audience, with graph after graph showing that for every cause of death, men are dying younger and in greater numbers than women in every age group and in every European country. The speakers emphasised that this gap was not a medical or biological fact, but an indicator of inequality in health information and access to care.
All stakeholders joined in calling for joint action across Europe and across the medical professions to address this. The first panel discussion of the day emphasised the importance of the different roles of the professional, patient and citizen communities. John Chave, of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU) spoke of the potential of community pharmacists, who are often more widespread, more accessible and more visited than physicians. Pharmacists can be a male-friendly and low-key entry point into the health system, potentially reducing late diagnosis. Willem de Blok, from the European Association of Urology Nurses (EAUN), touched on a theme running through the event: the importance of available, accessible, comprehensible and accurate information for patients, and the role of nurses in helping patients to navigate their way through diagnosis and treatment.
Barriers to men's health
Peter Matjasic from the European Youth Forum (EYF) shared concerns about the importance of information which is tailored to the needs of young people, and for healthcare systems which are sensitive to the particular requirements of young patients, as opposed to full adults or children. He also called for young people to be more involved in health policy decisions, an issue which ECPC will be developing later this year in our youth health conference. These issues were brought together by Dr Ian Banks from the European Men’s Health Forum (EMHF), who stressed that the information offered to patients was often not what they really wanted to know, and was not presented in the best way. He also called for more investigation into the role of barriers to men’s health, including how health interacts with masculine identities and social roles.
The first panel was followed by three MEPs who have fought for men’s health in the European Parliament, particularly in issues related to cancer. Gay Mitchell MEP, Petru Luhan MEP and Robert Sturdy MEP addressed a number of concerns, emphasising the importance of informed lifestyle choices and the potential for the European institutions to legislate in issues ranging from labelling food and alcohol to smoking bans, as well as to provide funds for research and development. 'We are only as good as the information we have,' said Robert Sturdy.
Gay Mitchell MEP called for a better understanding of the role of the media and marketing in influencing the decisions of young people, while Robert Sturdy urged the European Parliament to put its own house in order by stopping smoking in the member’s bar in Strasbourg. Petru Luhan spoke particularly of the impact of social transition on the health of men, and the importance of ensuring that lifesaving developments in medical technology are brought into use.
Information no benefit without motivation
EU Health Commissioner John Dalli introduced the second panel discussion by summarising DG Sanco’s views on this issue. Agreeing with previous comments on the role of socialised gender roles and stereotypes, he stressed that information was of no benefit without motivation. The personal motivation to make lifestyle changes can involve the support of peers and the use of positive role models to communicate key messages. Dr Angelo Paradiso, from the Organisation of European Cancer Institutes (OECI) emphasised the implications of increasing cancer incidence while mortality stabilises or decreases. With increasing numbers of cancer survivors and patients living with cancer under control, social and health care systems will need to adapt to the needs of this new community. Professor Alan White emphasised that the message that the academic and research communities send to policy-makers needs to be clear and consistent.
Tom Hudson, ECPC President, emphasised that this new report showed that health organisations have only scratched the surface and that there is much more work that needs to be done. He called for all stakeholders to communicate more with patients, as the patient community is a very active network. Dr. Ian Banks raised the issue of stigma and the importance of de-stigmatising conditions such as male breast cancer, and understanding the intersection between such issues and mental health or social problems which may arise as a result of a diagnosis.
In conclusion, ECPC Board member Francesco de Lorenzo summarised some of the key points of the discussion and Professor Alan White remarked on how this meeting itself marked an improvement in attitudes to men’s health. All agreed on the need for focused measures targeting this problem.
- Images: the platform (top); John Dalli and Alan White, Ian Banks, Alan White (bottom)