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Silent Suffering: Men, Manhood and HIV

Cape Town, Dec 18 2014 (IPS) - Across Africa, men have lower rates than women for HIV testing, antiretroviral treatment enrollment and adherence, viral load suppression and survival.

Generally, of all people on antiretroviral treatment (ART) in Africa, just over one-third are men.

The disparity can be even more dramatic: in South Africa, in 2012, half the number of men were taking the life-saving drugs compared to women: 1.3 million women and 651,000 men.

At the core of this inequality are socially constructed ideas of masculinity. To be a man means being strong, to ignore pain and symptoms. Hospitals are for women and children.

This idea of manhood leads men to ignore their own health needs. Seeking health care is seen as an admission of weakness.

As a result, men test for HIV and start ART late, sometimes too late to beat the virus.

Manhood brings a mix of personal costs and benefits. Among the costs are men’s poor mental and physical health, and their difficulty to talk about their feelings.

It’s not considered macho to share personal problems. This is one reason why men hesitate to join support groups to help them cope with treatment.

Experts recommend setting up men-friendly clinics with opening hours suitable for working men, recruiting male champions to encourage men to join HIV support groups, and routine co-testing of couples at antenatal clinics.

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