I think there are quite a number of factors to consider when analysing things that are responsible for life expectancy. As one is aware, Nigeria is among the countries with the lowest life expectancy in the world. I believe that we need to change so many things to get the desired result. And change begins with us in terms of perception of our environment. How do we treat our environment? We need to have a change of orientation and moral values. Of course, once there is a change in moral value, once there is environmental rethinking, I believe it will have a positive effect on life expectancy.
Improvements in living standards and provision of infrastructure are part of the moral values. Moral value means that will place national interests above personal interests. Corruption is part of the things affecting us. If we know that whatever is entrusted to us, we must use it to deliver the best of care, judicious use of resources will lead to better service delivery, good roads, good housing, and of course, poverty reduction are part of determinants of life expectancy. If the average Nigerian enjoys good health or have access to good health care, then his/her life expectancy will increase. Once we know that we are our brothers’ keepers, we love one another, then that will have a multiplier effect and life expectancy will improve. It is not only by building hospitals, because even if you build hospitals, not everybody will have access to them. There is also the aspect of ignorance. There are people who do not believe in going to hospitals because there is an herbalist that can attend to them. They will say their problem cannot be handled by western medicine, so, they prefer native medicine. That has its impact but what is killing people is attitude. Thirty to 40 years ago, we did not have so many hospitals but our life expectancy was higher than what we have now. So what has changed? It us the moral value.
There is no single measure for the standard or quality of living of human beings. There are composite measures. The per capita income is often taken simplistically. But most of the measures are tied to PCI which is the average income earned by the citizens of any country.The United Nations Development Programme came up with the Human Capacity Index which is derived from the analysis of over 100 parameters including variables such as access to health care, education and other things necessary for the longevity of life.
Since 1998 that the UNDP started reporting on Nigeria, unfortunately, our score has always been in the last quarter; it is very poor.The first way the Federal Government can improve on the life expectancy of Nigerians is to give them employment. A person who is not employed is as good as dead. In a family where both parents are not working and poor, the children will be miserable and they cannot live up to their normal years.So, the first thing is that the government should take employment creation for citizens as the most serious business.
Look at highly industrialised countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom; you will see their politicians still harping on employment, job creation and so on. They are not foolish. They know that this is the first thing an individual and a government must take care of.Let your people be employed. When the people are not employed, it is as if the government has confined them to a lifestyle of misery.
A study done by one of the leading American universities said that people who are retire but still do one work or the other live longer than those who retired and do nothing. This is the way God has designed human beings.So, if the government is going to be sincere, it will not play with employment generation for our millions of unemployed citizens.I have said it before that this government is not sincere in this area. We need a minimum of two million jobs per year in this country if we are going to come out of the poverty trap that we are in. We are still going to require more than that later.
If there are no good jobs, people cannot have access to good health and good nutrition. If the people have sufficient income to live a decent life, they will live longer naturally.There are still other areas that enhance life expectancy; but they are all dependent on a good income.
The issue of the improvement of life expectancy of Nigerians, whether directly or indirectly, can be tied to a number of factors. First, there has to be a structure that supports the general well-being and dignity of the human person as well as a holistic approach to health care delivery. In Cuba, which is not richly endowed in terms of natural resources for example, there is an efficient health care delivery system. This is so because it invested heavily in education. It is a communist society where there is a limit to how much an individual can acquire in terms of personal wealth at the state’s expense; but since the revolution in 1957, Cuba has been able to manage the life expectancy of its population in a way that is comparable to high flyers like the United States and Scandinavian countries, such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which are richer financially. What this shows is that, life expectancy is not a function of how materially rich a country is. We must get our governance issues right by changing our orientation to public service. We must invest massively in education and the provision of health facilities from the primary up to the tertiary level. Most importantly, provide Nigerians access to the basic necessities of life. This, more than anything else; will boost the desire to live and live well.
I think the first thing is for us to improve the economy. The more people are unemployed, the more frustrated they become. You know that Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. More than 80 per cent of the population live below the benchmark of one dollar per day. When you look at things critically, once people cannot meet basic needs, be it food or shelter, the propensity to fall sick and die is high. It is a leadership issue; if the quality of leadership and governance is improved, the life expectancy of Nigerians will improve. If we also have infrastructure like basic health care, even primary health care, it would impact life expectancy. In most communities, you don’t have hospitals, so before you transport the sick to a hospital, he would have died. Many lacked access to potable water; how many cities can boast of potable water? In the urban areas, how many homes can boast of tap water supply? How many people can boast of 24 hours power supply? So, the little things of life that make people live longer like food, shelter, health care are lacking in the country and that is why people die needlessly. Provision of these things would increase life expectancy and this is only possible through quality governance and good leadership.
The first area to look at in increasing the life expectancy of Nigerians is the aspect of public health. The government must work with experts in the field of public health to manage the well-being of its citizens. When there is a breakdown in public health, the effects are always devastating on the society. In the past, the life expectancy rate of our people was affected by communicable diseases such as Cholera and Tetanus. Today, we have non-communicable and lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis affecting the quality of living of the people. So, we are watching the trend and we believe that no government must fold its arms in advancing the public health which is one key index of the quality of life the people are going to live. The government needs to do more on public health enlightenment and work with professionals to sensitise the people to better ways of improving their health. There are so many areas that still need improvement in the country and we have to intensify our efforts.
- Prof. Abdulwaheed Olatinwo (A former Chief Medical Director, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital)
- Bisi Sanda (An economist/retired Senior Partner, Ernst and Young),
- Deji Adeyanju (Convener, Concerned Nigerians)
- Dr Junaid Mohammed (A medical doctor)
- Dr Rotimi Adesanya (A public health specialist)