Nigerian women’s life expectancy trails those of women in Ghana (65), Senegal (70,) Liberia (66) and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This is according to the 2020 World Population Data Sheet released on Friday by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau
In reaction, maternal health experts identify poverty, illiteracy, high fertility rate and poor nutrition as major factors contributing to low life expectancy among Nigerian women, even as the national figure was put at 55 years in a population of over 200m people.
According to the data, life expectancy of women in Nigeria could only be compared to a country like Sierra Leone, which also has 56 years for females.
The data, obtained by PUNCH HealthWise, showed that life expectancy of women in countries like Ghana (65), Senegal (70,) Liberia (66) and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa all have higher figures than Nigeria, making the country one of the lowest in world rankings.
Reacting to the report, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano State, Dr. Labaran Aliyu, identified poverty and illiteracy as the root cause of low life expectancy of women in Nigeria in combination with other factors, ranging from poor access to quality healthcare to lack of good nutrition.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, Aliyu, an Associate Professor, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Bayero University, Kano, said, “There are many reasons for low life expectancy of our women, but the most important two are illiteracy and poverty.
“Whatever way you want to look at it, you will ultimately come back to these two. So, these are the root causes.
“In a poor family, for example, if a woman is pregnant and develops complications and there are no resources to access healthcare, she will die from the complications.
“Although, sometimes, it is not about not having enough resources to access healthcare, but because of illiteracy, many don’t know what to do when they are sick or what not to do to get better.”
According to the gynaecologist, looking at illiteracy in the context of maternal health, it is important women know what they need to eat to be healthy.
“A lot of cases that we see in the hospitals and even in the communities are evidence of illiteracy.
“For instance, a woman is sick in the family and the sickness has a diagnosis — you can say this is the cause of that sickness. But because of illiteracy, it will be attributed to some other trivial issues based on the belief in the community.
“She will stop seeking care from the health providers and the sickness will worsen, ultimately she will die of the disease,” Aliyu explained.
He maintained that poverty rate in Nigeria is too high, stressing that if the issues are not properly addressed, a lot of women will continue to die from preventable causes and life expectancy will remain low.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics in its Poverty and Inequality report 2019, 1 in 10 or more than 82.9 million Nigerians live in poverty.
Also, World Bank says 96 million Nigerians will be living in poverty by 2022.
Besides poverty and illiteracy, the maternal health expert identified high fertility rate and poor nutrition as other factors responsible for low life expectancy of women in Nigeria.
“Our fertility rate is very high. Fertility rate is part of the problem because the more children women have, the less they have to cater for themselves.
“Again, in some communities that don’t accept family planning, women keep having children and exposing themselves to risk” the associate professor said.
Another maternal health expert and Global Advocacy Director, Pathfinder International, Dr. Habeeb Salami, said women’s lack of access to health facilities when they need them and shouldering responsibilities in the home, plus running to look for a means of living for their family are also part of the problem.
Salami, a Clinical Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, explained, “The way the environment has placed so much responsibility on women to shoulder is putting so much pressure on them and this is not good for anybody.
“Along with that is not having access to quality healthcare.
“Fertility rate is also a problem. With women going through this stress and on top of it carrying pregnancy frequently, that will seriously impact on their health.
“Cultural and religious pressure are exposing them to having more children than they can healthily and happily take care of.”
The public health physician further said that Nigerian women also experience gender-based violence and early marriage.
“Back home, you see a lot of gender-based violence. Early marriage and the stress that they go through during pregnancy and surviving to be able to take care of another child. These things are really weighing women down and affecting their life expectancy.
“Again, quality of healthcare that they get is poor. They have less access to quality healthcare. What is happening around them is reducing their life expectancy”, he said
On what could be done to improve life expectancy of women in Nigeria, Aliyu said the government has a role to play and the best role government can play is to provide enabling environment for people to earn a decent living.
“If the government cannot provide jobs, they should provide enabling environment by which individuals can be engaged in specific trade.
“The government should provide training for people to enable them have a vocation. Education is key. So, the government should make education free, available and accessible for women.
“We need community education, that is creating awareness in the communities”, he said.
He added, “There is need to improve our health system for women to have more access.”