KARACHI: According to a WHO report, more than 141 million children will be born: approximately 73 million boys and 68 million girls. Girls are expected to live longer than boys. However, it is important to note that the extra years that women live are not necessarily healthy ones for they may have to live with diseases and in poverty.
In lower-income countries, the gap in life expectancy narrows, not because of greater gender equality, but because more women die in pregnancy, childbirth, or shortly after giving birth than in wealthier countries. In 2015, 1 in 41 women in low-income countries died of maternal causes.
For almost every disease, except those that are specific to reproductive organs such as cervical cancer, men are affected more than women. This happens right from the first few years of life – 2.9 million boys under five years die compared with 2.5 million girls. This pattern continues through adolescence and young adulthood (injuries, violence, suicide), middle-age (diabetes, heart disease, cancer), and older age (TB, dementia).
Some of these differences are due to biological differences, as in the case of certain cancers and deaths in children under five years. Many differences are due to gender norms, including access to healthcare and health information, and societal and economic expectations. Essentially, the way we live our lives and the health and social infrastructure we live in, determine our exposure to risk factors for disease and how we seek care.
Men are much more likely to drink alcohol and smoke tobacco, which are major risk factors for many diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The use of alcohol can also be a risk factor for many diseases. Men are also more likely to be infected with TB because they are more often in crowded social settings. Higher deaths in men may also be because they are less likely to seek care for all kinds of health issues.
Societal expectations on men that prevent them from seeking care could also be responsible for a range of mental health conditions. Worldwide, twice as many men die by suicide than women.