Men and COVID-19

Women live longer than men. The difference spurred the Movember (Moustache and November) movement globally to raise awareness of men’s health issues. In Malaysia, women’s life expectancy is 77.6 years, five years longer than men (72.6 years).

There are many reasons for the lifespan gap between sexes. Let us take the current Covid-19 pandemic as an example. Data in many parts of the world reported higher Covid-19 mortality among men, including in Malaysia.

Why are men more vulnerable to Covid-19?

Women may have better immune responses to Covid-19 infection. The X chromosome, which women have two (XX) and men one (XY), contains many immune-related genes. Women’s stronger activation of virus-fighting cells and female sex hormones may give them an edge over men in fighting Covid-19 infection.

Besides that, men tend to have more comorbid conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease. From the Covid-19 mortality statistics in Malaysia, among those who died: 72 per cent were men, more than 80 per cent had at least one health condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, kidney disease, lung disease, and cancers.

Men also have higher use of tobacco and alcohol, which are related to Covid-19 death. The proportion of current smokers in Malaysia was more than 30 times higher among men (40.5 per cent) than women (1.2 per cent).

Gender psychosocial and behavioural factors are important causes of Covid-19 infection too. In a scientific paper published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, some evidence suggests men may engage more in activities that generate potentials for contracting Covid-19, such as defying stay-at-home orders and joining large public gatherings.

While men cannot control the number of X chromosomes they were born with, there are a few things that we (men and women) can do to mitigate Covid-19 risks.

  1. Manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease by complying with the treatment plans.
  2. Stop high-risk behaviours linked with Covid-19 death, such as smoking.
  3. Exercise preventive measures such as washing hands frequently, wearing masks correctly, practising physical distancing, and following Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

This opinion piece was written by Dr Wan Kim Sui (DrPH student), Professor Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi and Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming are with the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya and was first published in the Malay Mail.

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