In a striking contrast with many countries, men in India more than women appear disproportionately likely to test positive for COVID- 19 , an analysis of global data shows. This anomaly, experts told The Hindu , could be a statistical reflection of relatively low testing for the disease in India. On April 6, the Health Ministry said 76% of the confirmed cases in India were men.
Many countries — including the United Kingdom and the United States — while publicising data on cases and death rates don’t have sex-segregated national data. However, data from 40 countries, which do share such data and compiled by GlobalHealth5050, an independent research initiative that tracks gender and health, suggest that the gender-split in all countries is roughly 50-50, barring two exceptions: India and Pakistan. 72% of our neighbour’s 4,004 cases have been confirmed in men.
Greece, for instance, with 17,551 cases is 55% male; Italy assailed with 124,547 cases is 53% male. China too, even though data has not been updated since February 28, showed that its 55,924 cases then were almost evenly split 51:49 among men and women.
Another unusual exception was South Korea — the country that has conducted the maximum number of tests as a proportion of population — in that more women tested positive than man. 60% of its 10,000 cases, as on Wednesday, were women. Germany, another country that has tested significantly, notes an even split, 50: 50 in its case load of 99,255.
However, men in all countries were significantly more likely — almost twice — to die than women, though this data point is available for only 18 countries. India hasn’t yet shared national figures on COVID-19 mortality rates in men and women.
Experts told The Hindu that India’s wide disparity was more likely due to sociological factors and when testing increased and more infections detected the male-female gap would likely narrow.
Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist associated with the Public Health Foundation of India, said it was likely that in most countries international travellers — the key source of the initial tranche of infections in most countries — were equally likely to be men or women. “It’s possibly more reflective of employment trends in India. Women are much less likely to be travelling for work internationally from India.”
Jacob John, retired professor of virology, Christian Medical College, and community-health expert, said that while there was global evidence for men being much more susceptible to infectious disease than women, it was unlikely this was case for COVID-19 in India. “Current Indian data is extremely unreliable. I anticipate that at least 80,000 are infected as opposed to the current 5,000. There may be a significant gender-based explanation for severity of disease but unlikely for infection,” he told The Hindu .
Global COVID research so far has also shown that men are more likely to be harbouring additional ailments: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more likely to smoke, making them even more vulnerable to a severe — potentially fatal — infection.