Are Men More Susceptible to Contract and Die from the Novel Coronavirus?

By Alex Twahirwa
On 28 April 2020 at 04:41

As Coronavirus continues its rapid spread across borders, oceans, and continents, there is a puzzling piece of data and pattern that remains consistent and noticeably: more numbers of men than women dying from the virus across the globe.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention large study of 44,672 confirmed COVID-19 cases; found that the fatality rate was 2.8% for men compared to 1.7% for women. WHO reports further revealed that 68% of deaths related to COVID-19 in Europe have been among men. In New York City, men have been dying of coronavirus at almost twice the rate of women where 71 COVID-19 deaths for every 100,000 men, compared with 39 deaths for every 100,000 women. These figures by no means tell the full story.

Data collected from other similar outbreaks like the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) - have also shown that men are more severely affected.

In Rwanda the recently published sex disaggregated data revealed that 67% of male and 33% of female tested positive to novel COVID-19 as of April 22nd, 2020. This trend is replicated and mirrored in almost every country, but scientists cannot yet fathom the cause.

Although collecting data about coronavirus is still a work in progress and a lot is still unknown about why men are more frequently and harder hit by COVID-19 infection, most of the available data so far confirms that men have a higher fatality rate than women from the virus.

According to the health experts, the Coronavirus disparities in infection and death rates between men and women are largely attributed to both biological and behavioral risks.

Research shows that a significant number of critical immune genes are located on the X chromosome and due to the fact that women have two X chromosomes (XX) compared to one in men (XY), their immune systems and response to infections tend to be more aggressive and stronger than in men.

According to the Global Health 50/50, the other compelling factor is down to underlying severe chronic diseases and healthy conditions that particularly affect the heart and the lung. Such co-morbidity conditions are prevalent in men partly due to their higher levels of risky and gendered behaviors.

Globally more men than women smoke, abuse drugs, drink alcohol, and much higher exposed to high levels of outdoor air pollution which all these pose a greater risk for those with Coronavirus.

A growing body of evidence also suggests that, men tend to seek health care later in the course of infection compared to women partly due to a perceived "femininity" of health concerns, and those risk-taking behaviors are a masculine trait.

Reluctances to seek proper and timely medical help by men reduce their survival rate as compared to women and hence a need to devise innovative messaging approaches that target men to improve their health seeking patterns.

Experience also shows that during the time of pandemic outbreak and financial crisis, men`s traditional attributed gender roles as providers and breadwinners are challenged.

This situation compel majority men especially in countries with weak social protection programmes to engage into less protective jobs to earn income and hence ending up being infected by the Coronavirus largely due to limited access to affordable protective hygiene products and money to acquire them.

In additional, other studies suggest that, men are less likely to wash their hands than women, use soap or abide by public health advice like social-distancing - a key way of preventing infection with COVID-19.

As the world, is working around the clock to curb the wider spread of the new Coronavirus that is sweeping the globe, one thing in common and rife is that social gender norms, roles and harmful behavior shaped around ideas of masculinity of men and boys is one of the key contributor of high rates of male infection, morbidity and fatality to the deadly Coronavirus.

Alcohol and substance abuse and poor health-seeking all have negative impacts on men’s own wellbeing and hence a need for gender transformative approaches & responses that addresses men`s and women`s specific concerns.

Concerted efforts should also focus on challenging restrictive gender roles and stereotypes that harm men and women while promoting positive forms of masculine.

Efforts should further be strengthened to collect, analyze and disseminate sex-disaggregated data to enable researchers, scientists, and policymakers to have a clear view and pattern of the gender dimensions of COVID-19 infection rates and death tolls.

Alex Twahirwa
Gender Policy Analyst