Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Making the world a better place for women and girls is a hot topic in aid and development circles.
For good reason: Few efforts aimed at reducing poverty or improving the lives of the poor can be accomplished without ending discriminatory practices that harm women and girls.
Gender equity is Millennium Development Goal 3 and a candidate for the next set of goals post-2015, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals. Discussions about gender equality are almost exclusively focused on women and girls and strive to close the gender gap in sectors such as education, employment, domestic violence, income, and nutrition.
Clearly, these efforts are badly needed to ease human suffering and improve quality of life for people around the world.
But in focusing so much on issues where females are lagging behind, are we missing glaring health disparities in men?
The figure below from a recent Global Burden of Disease report shows that males in certain age groups made dramatically less progress in reducing mortality than females worldwide. First appearing at age 15, the achievement gap between the sexes was especially large in the twenties and thirties. In the 25 to 29 year age group, women succeeded in reducing their mortality rates by nearly 40%, but men’s mortality rates only declined by about 15%.
The IHME tools also allow you to investigate risk factors that contribute to different causes of death. The screen grab below focuses on road traffic deaths in men and women ages 25 and 29. It reveals the number of deaths from this cause that are attributable to fatal injuries on the job (occupational risks) and alcohol, showing stark differences between the sexes. Out of all road injury deaths in men in this age group, 31% were attributable to occupational risks, while alcohol contributed to 15% of these deaths (click here to view the data).
The second cause where rates differ substantially between men and women is unintentional injuries, which are classified separately from road injuries. Similar to the case of road injuries, job-related hazards contributed to 33% of deaths from unintentional injuries, while 14% of deaths were attributable to alcohol (explore the data in the online tool). These deaths include situations such as construction workers falling off buildings or workers trapped inside a burning factory, such as recently occurred in Bangladesh.
Let’s look at a third cause of death whose rates differ between men and women in their late twenties – intentional injuries. A major component of intentional injuries is homicide, also known as interpersonal violence. The screen grab below shows the number of homicide deaths attributable to alcohol and intimate partner violence in males across the lifespan worldwide in 2010. Again, alcohol fueled a large number of homicide deaths in adults, especially in men ages 25 to 29. Alcohol use contributed to 17,000 deaths (28% of all homicide deaths) in this age group. For suicide, another component of the intentional injuries category, alcohol was also a dominant risk factor (view the data online here).
To close the mortality gap between men and women, the global health community needs to focus on tackling the disproportionate burden of injuries in men. Investing in programs that target major causes of death and leading risk factors – such as those that improve road safety, reduce alcohol use, and lower workplace-related injuries – would represent a major step towards achieving gender equality in health.