A men-only clinic has opened in Gugulethu, in Cape Town, in a partnership between the municipality and the Sonke Gender Justice Network.
It offers clinical services such as HIV testing and counselling, and screening for sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis. It also distributes condoms to promote safe sex, and provides counselling, information and referrals on issues such as substance abuse and refugee rights.
The Sonke Gender Justice Network is an NGO that focuses on gender equality, prevention of gender-based violence, and reducing the spread of HIV and the impact of Aids. It will be responsible for social mobilisation on health and gender issues, hosting workshops on health education and conducting outreach programmes at the clinic.
The clinic, which was opened on 17 February 2012, is part of a partnership between the city and the NGO, called One Man Can. It aims to make men more responsible for their health, which, it's believed, will have a ripple effect and reach all parts of society.
Cape Town mayoral committee member for health Lungiswa James, who opened the clinic, said: "The need for a dedicated men's clinic such as this was identified when we realised that men are often reluctant to visit general clinics, despite their susceptibility to particular types of illness.
"As a result of these factors, we see men's life expectancy being lower than that of women."
The NY1 Clinic is opposite Gugulethu Mall.
Services by male nurses provided by the city will initially only be available from 9am to 4.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but will eventually expand. Mzoli Properties donated the physical structure for the clinic.
"We have started engaging various role players in this community – engaging role players has always proved useful in the past and we'll definitely be doing this again to reach more men," said Mzamo Sidelo, a trainer for One Man Can.
These role players include churches, libraries, schools and other institutions in the vicinity.
Men avoid clinics
According to the Sonke Gender Justice Network, studies show that men are under-represented in health services, including HIV services.
A national HIV testing campaign conducted between 2010 and 2011 tested nearly 13-million people. It was found that men made up only 30% of that number. Men also sought HIV treatment later than women and often showed up for services with already severely compromised immune systems.
In South Africa, about 55% of those living with HIV are women, but more than two-thirds of patients receiving public sector anti-retroviral treatment are female. "The clinic intends to make men partners in health by providing a space to actively participate in health matters and take full responsibility," said James.
"As a caring city, we are working tirelessly to provide this service in all areas and we urge men to use these services for their own benefit and the benefit of their families and the entire society."
The Sonke Gender Justice Network believes that taking responsibility for one's health is about positively changing one's relationship with one's own body; breaking free from the confines of rigid and violent gender constructions, which leave men vulnerable to illness and injury; and developing a responsible and gender-equitable society, which in turn can promote positive relationships and respect for other people.
Why the fear
An article in The Lancet titled "Expanding HIV care in Africa: making men matter" says: "Efforts to understand men's health-seeking behaviour are poorly understood in the Aids epidemic, and encouraging men to get tested and into treatment is a major challenge, but one that is poorly recognised.
"Addressing these issues effectively means moving beyond laying blame and starting to develop interventions to encourage uptake of prevention, testing, and treatment for men – for everyone's sake."
The Lancet is a leading general medical and specialty journal focusing in oncology, neurology and infectious diseases.
Sonke says many psycho-social, economic and infrastructural reasons can be blamed for men's reluctance to care for their health.
These include: men's attitudes and the belief that using health services is a sign of weakness; the fact that health services are mostly offered by women at clinics; and the long waiting times and inconvenient consultation times.