Nigeria’s Life Expectancy in 2019: Matters Arising

By Reuben Rine

Life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average time an organism is expected to live, based on the year of its birth, its current age and other demographic factors including gender. The most commonly used measure of life expectancy is at birth (LEB), which can be defined in two ways. Cohort LEB is the mean length of life of an actual birth cohort (all individuals born in a given year) and can be computed only for cohorts born many decades ago, so that all their members have died. Period LEB is the mean length of life of a hypothetical cohort assumed to be exposed, from birth through death, to the mortality rates observed at a given year.

Estimates suggest that in a pre-modern, poor world, life expectancy was around 30 years in all regions of the world. In the early 19th century, life expectancy started to increase in the early industrialized countries while it stayed low in the rest of the world. This led to a very high inequality in how health was distributed across the world. Good health in the rich countries and persistently bad health in those countries that remained poor.

Over the last decades this global inequality decreased. Countries that not long ago were suffering from bad health are catching up rapidly. Since 1900, the global average life expectancy has more than doubled and is now above 70 years in most countries. No country in the world has a lower life expectancy than the countries with the highest life expectancy in 1800.

Nigeria, with a total population of 200,097,145 has been declared by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to be the world’s third lowest life expectancy rate and, the lowest in West African sub-region. The average life expectancy in Nigeria is around 54.5 years of age according to WHO data, with men living an average of 53.7 years and women living an average of 55.4 years.

With this global report, life expectancy of an average Nigerian in 2019 is only better than those of people in the Central African Republic, Chad and Sierra Leone, with life expectancy of 53.8, 53.6, and 52.7 years respectively. Nevertheless, Hong Kong, Japan, Switzerland are countries of the world with the highest life expectancy rates of 84.3, 84.1 and 83.7 years respectively.

To my greatest dismay, poverty and war-stricken countries including Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Haiti, Niger, DR Congo, South Sudan, and Somalia all have average life expectancy rates ranging between 57.3 to 72.2 years, above Nigeria.

In 1960 when Nigeria became independent, the average life expectancy was 37 years more than several other African and Asian countries. With the general doubling of life expectancy rates globally, one would have imagined Nigeria having life expectancy rate ranging between 70 to 74. But unfortunately, our progress was reportedly minimal as compared to other developed and developing countries.

Nigeria’s low life expectancy rate can be attributed to the fact that the country has a lot of health issues, with the AIDS epidemic as the major player in the low life expectancy. That apart, Nigeria has one of the highest child and maternal mortality rate s and the widespread growth of the polio virus in the world. In fact, it has been reported that one out of every five children that are born in Nigeria will die before they reach the age of five due to the many health risks in Nigeria. Avoidable and preventable diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and many others are still endemic all through Nigeria, with high morbidity and mortality rates.

Furthermore, thousands of expectant mothers die from avoidable pregnancy related complications every year in Nigeria. The chances of Nigerian woman's death during pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 13. In addition to that, many people in Nigeria do not seek professional medical attention .

Most people lay claim to different superstitious believes and traditional healers for medical attention which further worsen their predicament. Also, well-equipped health care facilities are not evenly distributed in the country. The few equipped health centers are often over-crowded and the facilities and man-power overstretched.

With the widely criticized claim attributed to the Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment Dr Chris Ngege who stated that “I am not worried about doctors leaving the country. We have surplus. If you have surplus, you export.” is pathetic. Apart from been a Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngege doubles as a medical doctor who has practiced for over two decades in Nigeria and has risen to becoming a deputy director in the Federal Ministry of Health before his retirement. As such he should have known the present unpleasant state of Nigeria’s health care system better.

Based on WHO standard for optimal health care delivery, doctor/patient ratio should be 1:600. Nevertheless, in Nigeria, we have 40,000 doctors taking care of 200 million people. Elsewhere, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, disclosed last year that there's a ratio of one doctor per 5,000 Nigerians, one of the highest rates in Africa. This trend is worrisome for Nigeria’s future and prosperity.

Water is one major and essential need of all humans, as such it should be readily accessible, safe and adequately supply to all. Unfortunately, high populations of Nigerians don’t have access to purified water sources, thereby constituting a grave sanitation consequence with debilitating effects on life expectancy.

Although 68.5% of Nigerians have improved means of access, 31.5% still struggle to get clean water. Similarly, only 29% of the entire population of Nigeria have improved sanitation access as compared to the 71% that are still struggling.

The above stated indicators are of serious public health concern. Their impacts on the life expectancy of Nigerians should not be overlooked.

It is expected that many analysts and most assuredly government officials may differ with the latest life expectancy report, as often the case is when poor and unsavory reports are made about Nigeria. Nevertheless, it’ll be of national interest and beneficial to summon experts on demography, public health and policy, health statistics, environmental safety, food hygiene, social interventions amongst others to examine the UNFPA report more critical and proffer lasting solutions this debilitating national problem.

Nigeria’s life expectancy rate can rise for the better when professionals and experts are allowed to manage and oversee health care programs and delivery. Also, efforts should be made in curtailing avoidable infants and maternal mortalities. Government should ensure food security, the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food across Nigeria.

Reuben Rine: [email protected]

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