It is cheering and encouraging that Nigerians have been reported to be living longer by eight years. Nigerians are now said to be living longer than they used to, despite the fact that heart diseases, lower respiratory tract infections and stroke, which top the list of 20 major causes of premature deaths worldwide, are equally killing our people in large numbers.
In the new World Health Statistics 2014 report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the world was said to have witnessed major gains in life expectancy in recent decades. The report revealed that Nigerians’ life expectancy that stood at 46 years in 1990 rose to 54 years in 2012.
A major highlight of the report is that women live longer than men in Nigeria. Their life expectancy rose from 47 years in 1990 to 55 years in 2012, while Nigerian men that could be expected to live up to 45 years in 1990, had life expectancy of 53 years in 2012. The report further observed that low-income countries made the most significant progress, with an increase of nine years in life expectancy between 1990 and 2012, from 51.2 to 60.2 years for men, and 54.0 to 63.1 years for women.
Six countries that achieved the greatest progress in extending life expectancy are Liberia, Ethiopia, Maldives, Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Rwanda. Despite the global increase in longevity, nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa, namely Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, still have life expectancy of less than 55 years for both men and women. With an average life expectancy of 87 years for women and 80 for men, Japan leads the pack of high-income countries with an average gain in life expectancy put at 5.1 years, closely followed by Switzerland, which has average life expectancy of 85.1 years for women and 80.7 years for men.
Even though life expectancy in Nigeria is not as high as it ought to be, considering the material resources at our disposal, and our expectancy figures are still much lower than those of countries such as Japan, this 8-year improvement in longevity in Nigeria is still a welcome development. It is good news that should be improved upon in the years ahead.
Undoubtedly, increasing education and public hygiene, higher standard of living, improved access to good food and better health-care delivery system, more awareness of public health issues and more efficient management of communicable and non-communicable diseases, have all added to the increase in life expectancy of Nigerians.
We commend the government, our health professionals and, indeed, all Nigerians for this improvement and urge all levels of government in the country to do more towards improving the health and living standard of all Nigerians, especially those living in rural areas, where the standard of living is still very low, and access to medical care is limited. With the enormous resources at Nigeria’s disposal, life expectancy of Nigerians ought to be higher than what it is presently.
Beyond our improvement on the life expectancy scale, however, is the need to address areas that have been identified as cutting short the lives of Nigerians. Our maternal and infant mortality rates remain high. A recent report has also identified malnutrition as another serious problem militating against longevity of life in Nigeria. It said that about one million children under the age of five die in Nigeria every year from malnutrition. The report ranks Nigeria among the six countries of the world that account for all child deaths from malnutrition worldwide. The pilot study, conducted in four states in the north — Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi and Katsina — showed that one in five children in the country suffers from acute malnutrition. It also reported low awareness among families and communities on how best to feed infants and children. Situations such as these can only reduce life expectancy in the country. Nigerians should not be dying on account of malnutrition because the country has sufficient arable land to grow enough food to adequately feed our population and even export to other countries.
All tiers of government and those in the affected states should, therefore, team up for serious nutrition interventionist programmes to remedy this situation. We must also pay more serious attention to killer diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart problems that have been identified as significantly contributing to mortality worldwide.
While celebrating the 8-year increase in life expectancy in Nigeria, the development should challenge us to work harder to further bridge the huge gap in expected longevity of life between Nigeria and the developed countries.