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Toughing it out ... Women are more likely than men to check with their doc once a year

Published:Wednesday | November 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
De La Haye

When it comes to health care, Devaughn Colquhoun is a typical Jamaican male. He sees a doctor only when he absolutely has to.

"I know how I feel," said Colquhoun, a 30-year-old management accountant with the Jamaica Constabulary Force. "So unless something is very serious or there is something irregular, like an issue with the heart, that's when you find me going to the doctor to find out what could go wrong."

He adds: "It's not a fear; it's just not priority for me."

Indeed, Colquhoun's attitude is borne out by pollster Bill Johnson in a Gleaner-commissioned survey on Jamaicans' approach to personal health management, and the perspectives on the island's health-care system. It showed that women are nearly one and a half times (65 per cent to 48 per cent) more likely than men to have a check with their doctor once a year.

But while women are more proactive about check-ups, the survey, conducted in September, suggested that Jamaicans as a whole are not very good at it. Only 57 per cent said they see a doctor, even without an obvious ailment; 41 per cent didn't.

In the United States, a 2014 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 92 per cent of adult Americans believe that the annual check-up is important, and 62 per cent reported having them.

A decade earlier, the Gallup polling organisation found the same number of Americans who believe these annual physicals to be necessary. But back then, based on the Gallup findings, a substantially greater portion of the population - 78 per cent - actually trooped in for their physicals.

Such shifts may, in part, be attributed to higher medical costs, as well new guidelines by health-care professionals, who, instead of the old broad-brush approach, increasingly promote a more individualised approach to screening, taking into account risk factors and based on the person's health and lifestyle.

Like in the United States, older people are the ones more likely to have annual check-ups. In the Gleaner-Johnson survey, more than six of 10 in the 55-64 age group see their doctor voluntarily at least once a year. That rises to approximately 74 per cent of those in the 65 -and-over age group.

This survey didn't drill deeper into the age-gender approaches to this topic, but the anecdotal information suggests that while the attitude of young men like Colquhoun, the police accountant, is influenced by age, there are deeper cultural issues involved. His father was the same way and didn't easily budge, despite his wife being a nurse.

"My father didn't like going to the doctor either," Colquhoun said. "He's a country boy. So, you find that his mother would rely on natural remedies. I call my grandmother the bush doctor because she will pick all sort of different plants, mix it together and you will be OK."

Wendel Abel, a professor of psychiatry at the University of the West Indies, Mona, understands the "tough-it-out" approach to health on the part of men.

"An important part of it has to do with how we socialise boys," Abel said. "Men are socialised to feel that they are tougher. They are socialised to be less nurturing and that includes nurturing of their own selves. The support among men, there is this whole concept of invincibility, all of these things combined."

Abel said that this behaviour among men is not peculiar to Jamaica: "It is a challenge that we face worldwide with men. Generally speaking, worldwide, we do know that women have better health habits."

While recognising the greater problem with men, Dr Winston De La Haye, chief medical officer in the island's health ministry, underscores the need for cross-gender initiatives for Jamaicans to take greater personal responsibility for their health.

"It can only be through education that we will have our citizens understand the importance of a visit to the doctor," De La Haye said. "The fact (is) that you don't need to be sick to seek medical attention; instead, take a preventative approach."

It is a lesson that Colquhoun, even as he jokes about getting on in age, wants to learn as his body begins to send him subtle signals and remainders. "I think I should take it (health care) more seriously," he said."I'm getting up in age now. The sickness lasts a little longer ... . Flu, which would normally last a day or two, will drag out a little longer. I feel some knee and back pain every now and then, so I get gentle reminders that I am getting old and should be more cautious."