Traditional practices ‘put men’s health in danger’

A sick man tries to walk using walking aid
A sick man tries to walk using walking aid Copyright: Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

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  • African men’s health at risk from traditional cultural practices, study finds
  • Women’s reproductive health issues tend to receive more attention
  • Policymakers urged to include men’s health in gender policies

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[NAIROBI] Harmful traditional practices such as keeping concubines and inheriting wives of deceased family members put men in Sub-Saharan Africa at risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, a study says.

Researchers explain that traditional practices that infringe on the rights of women and girls tend to receive more attention than those that negatively impact men’s health, quality of life, marriages and wellbeing.

“Concubinage leads men to marry as many wives as they want, leading to unchecked spread of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS in regions where it is permitted,” says Emmanuel O. Amoo, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Cogent Social Sciences last week (21 October). “These age-long traditional practices cut across Sub-Saharan Africa and reflect the values and beliefs held by these communities across generations.”

“Concubinage leads men to marry as many wives as they want, leading to unchecked spread of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.”

Emmanuel O. Amoo, Covenant University, Nigeria

Amoo, who is a senior lecturer of demography and social statistics at Covenant University, Nigeria, tells SciDev.Net that such practices have adverse implications for life expectancy among men and the continent’s development.

“Considering the region’s economic activity that is male-dominated, whatever affects the health of men impairs their economic productivity, retards gross domestic products and the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals on food production, agriculture, employment and economic growth,” he adds.

The study covers Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Researchers searched four databases including Pubmed and African Journals Online, and identified 15 papers published between January 2000 and December 2018 that focused on harmful traditional practices of men of ages 15–59 years across Sub-Saharan Africa.

The study identified practices such as groom flogging, adolescent fatherhood, having first sexual intercourse at or before age 14, multiple sexual partnership, concubinage, drinking in excess and sexual coercion.

Researchers estimated the overall proportion of male circumcision in Sub-Saharan Africa to be 60.3 per cent. Whereas this was not identified in the study as a harmful practice, Pollyana Onyango, a senior pharmacist at Pharmaplus Pharmaceuticals, Kenya, says there are worrying misconceptions surrounding the ritual.

Onyango says that men should be alerted to the damaging effects of the traditional practices the study identified.

“Wife inheritance has led many men to fall prey to HIV-infected widows,” explains Onyango. “Circumcision has been misunderstood. Most men become reckless after the rite in the assumption that it makes them immune to most diseases. After infection, denial and hegemonic masculinity [men’s dominant position in society] bar them from seeking antiretroviral drugs.”

Onyango bemoans the lack of inclusion of men’s issues in gender policies. The UN General Assembly’s convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women fights discrimination against women and girls, the African Union special rapporteur on rights of women aims to end girl-child marriage while the Forum for African Women Educationalists champions improved access to gender-responsive education for girls.

“The lack of literature [on men] assumes that none of these practices is harmful to men’s health,” Onyango says.

Onyango urges policymakers to formulate advocacy policies to influence the attitude of men towards their spouses. “This may be crucial for the success of reproductive health programmes,” adds Onyango.

“Counselling on these practices should be incorporated into community-based or national health programmes for the achievement of holistic health and wellbeing for both genders.” 

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.