June 22, 2013
The life expectancy for an adult Nigerian male is 63.5 years, and for an adult Nigerian female, about 64 years. This is a very important piece of epidemiological information in lieu popular misunderstanding and misinterpretation of life expectancy data commonly by the press and unknowing general public.
Birth life expectancy—which is different from adult life expectancy—plots the overall average years lived for all live births, but it does not present the expected life-span for different age categories. It is important in health-care planning and public awareness, to define and understand the different life expectancy results, depending on age strata.
The table above from worldlifeexpectancy, presents 2010 age stratified life expectancy values. These represent how long a male or female Nigerian typically lives after he or she enters a different age bracket. We immediately see that at birth, Nigerians’ life expectancy is about 47 years, but as adulthood is approached, the life-expectancy approaches 63-64 years.
The reason Nigeria and many “developing” nations have this typical bell shaped curve, as is seen in the figure below, with birth life expectancy values really low, but values getting higher as we consider adolescent, adult and geriatric life expectancy, is because of extremely high perinatal and infant mortality rates. This high mortality under 5 years of age, reduces the over-all average to the low figure we are used to and frequently misinterpret—thinking Nigerians on average only live to 47, or 52, depending on which data we considered. But this is very misleading and detrimental to the public’s approach to improving the overall life expectancy pattern for the country.
Even though, when compared to the life expectancy for the black American adult (70), Nigeria at 63.5 years for males, is 6.5 years shorter, and 12.5 years shorter than that of US white men(76); whether one thinks this much or little, we must realize that the problem of such a high mortality under 5 years is grave, and greater attention and resource must be accorded to maternities, pediatric care and parenting.
Malaria remains the top killer of Nigerians, followed closely by HIV related deaths. Both are blamed for over 200,000 deaths every year in Nigeria. In general, infectious diseases take more lives in countries like Nigeria, compared to chronic ailments like coronary heart disease and dementia, that are implicated most in deaths in America, where people live longer and white populations—more prone to Coronary disease, are prevalent.
Now that we appreciate the fact that once we pass 5 years of age, we are more likely than not, to get to 60 years at least, though keeping in mind that this is a range, from 63.5 for men, being 53.5-73.5, depending on the standard deviation in the study; it is important to look at the historical pattern of life expectancy in Nigeria.
From the next figure, we see that there has been an incremental rise, averaging 2 years per decade, for the 5 decades in view. This 2 year per decade increase in life expectancy is identical to the increments obtained in the United States historical review, which also had same margin increments with better health care.
Battling infant mortality and infectious diseases must be a primary health care focus of all Nigerians, both in the hospitals and outside of it. Quick medical care seeking, the use of only expert prescribed medication, better compliance, authentic drugs, and other related infection combating approaches need to be encouraged.
If you are reading this, then perhaps things are not as bad as you might have thought, for you at least. But thy are definitely very, very bad for babies and tods.