Dr Chuka Onaga, deputy chief of party at leading health NGO Right to Care is encouraging all men to focus on their health during men’s health awareness month in June. This is because South African men are a lot more reluctant to seek out healthcare services than women who tend to go to clinics because of their reproductive needs and role in child rearing.
Onaga explains, “As part of men’s health awareness month, Right to Care wants to inspire you to visit your closest health facility for regular health check-ups, if you’re concerned about your health or if you’re not feeling well. There are so many benefits to going to your nearest health facility. You get to know the healthcare workers and they get to know you. You can discuss any health concerns you have with them, better understand your risks for certain diseases, be empowered to prevent illnesses and start treatment if you need it.”
Dr Onaga says, “Our teams working in communities say that going to a clinic can be difficult for many men and so they avoid going to health facilities. This can lead to serious health consequences, so please don’t wait until you are really sick. Rather, aim to be proactive about your health. And remember, you have a right to dignity and respect when you get to a facility,” Onaga adds.
He says that it’s most important to prevent diseases, know your risks, get tested if you are at risk, and get onto treatment. “Prevention is better than cure, and while many conditions can be successfully treated, it is preferable to prevent them,” says Dr Onaga.
Onaga acknowledges that visiting a health facility may be inconvenient, it may mean time off work, and it might even be embarrassing for some. “We at Right to Care understand that many men don’t like waiting in queues and don’t want people to think that they are sick or weak. We recognise that you want to be strong for your family and partner. But to achieve this, and live a great life with your loved ones, you should aim to be the best version of yourself that you can be, and this means looking after your health.”
The MINA. For Men. For Health campaign supports men with their health by creating safe spaces for them to share their experiences and build their health. To find out more, you can visit the Facebook page.
One of the most preventable and treatable illnesses that affects men is tuberculosis (TB). You are most at risk for TB if you live in a closed space with someone who has TB, or has had TB in the last two years, or has untreated TB. One of the main symptoms is consistent coughing. Other symptoms of TB include night sweats, fever and unexplained weight loss. Dr Onaga explains that, “TB is easily diagnosed using x-rays and testing phlegm (sputum) and urine. Your healthcare worker will tell you what you need to know about the tests and starting TB treatment if you have TB.
“If you are HIV-positive, especially if newly diagnosed or not virally suppressed, you are also at greater risk for TB. If you have any symptoms or are at risk, speak to your healthcare worker.”
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections and stay strong. The virus can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids. Within a few weeks of HIV infection, flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat and fatigue can occur. Then the disease is usually asymptomatic until it progresses to AIDS. Dr Onaga explains that, “HIV is primarily driven by unprotected sex. Having sex without a condom increases your chances of getting HIV, and the risk increases if you have more than one sexual partner.”
Using condoms correctly and consistently is very important to prevent HIV, especially if you are unsure of your partner’s HIV status. You can also take PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which is a pill to avoid getting HIV when you are unsure of the HIV status of your sexual partner. Your healthcare worker will tell you everything you need to know about PrEP and how to take it. Circumcision for men helps reduce HIV by as much as 60%. “Right to Care has performed over 1.4-milion safe circumcisions over the last ten years, so guys, if you’re not circumcised, contact 082 808 6152 right now to find out more and book your appointment,” says Dr Onaga. “Circumcision also helps prevent cervical cancer in women.”
Testing for HIV
“If you’ve had more than one sexual partner and you don’t know your HIV status please test for HIV,” urges Dr Onaga. “If you test negative, you can stay negative. If you test positive, you can begin life changing treatment,” he says.
In the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine programme, Right to Care has noted that men over 35 in South Africa are not getting Covid-19 vaccines at the same rate as women. “Vaccination protects you from severe illness and death from Covid-19. Most of the people in hospital and intensive care units are unvaccinated. It’s important to vaccinate, and to get your booster shots. Your healthcare worker or vaccinator will explain when you can get your boosters,” says Dr Onaga. “To find your closest vaccine site, you can visit FindMyJab.co.za.”
“We are also calling all men to stand up to gender-based violence and to call it out when they become aware of it,” says Dr Onaga. “Gender-based violence fuels HIV because women are not able to negotiate condom use or safe sex. Men have an important role to play in addressing gender-based violence.”
Quick medicine collection
Right ePharmacy has set up Collect & Go smart lockers where patients with life-long medical conditions can collect their medicine quickly in many districts across South Africa. To be able to collect in this way you have to be stable on your medicine and you can ask your healthcare worker to register you. To find out more, call 080 111 2228 or go to www.collectandgo.co.za.
Dablapmeds is another shortcut to getting your chronic medication. It allows for patients with chronic conditions who are stable on their medication to collect their medication nearer to their home or work without having to wait in a long queue.
About Right to Care
Right to Care is a non-profit organisation that supports and delivers prevention, care, and treatment services for HIV and TB. Through technical assistance, Right to Care supports the private sector, the National Department of Health (NDOH) and the Department of Correctional Services. Right to Care is supporting the NDOH and several regional departments of health with their Covid-19 response. USAID is a primary funder of Right to Care’s work, including its Covid-19 response and vaccination work. USAID sponsored the development of the FindMyJab web-based app.
MINA for Men is a USAID-sponsored initiative which is supported by the SA National Department of Health.