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Nigeria: Medical outreach for health and wellness in AfricaCredit: Chygo/Wikimedia Commons

A new report, published in The Lancet has noted Nigeria's inability to enact policies that would address preventable health problems has resulted in the country’s underutilisation of its people. In addition to access to quality health services, the report noted that Nigeria can also record gains in its health sector by improving sanitation and hygiene, access to clean water, and food security, and by addressing environmental threats to health, including air pollution.

The report noted that the country spends more than other countries in West Africa, albeit out-of-pocket payments, yet life expectancy in Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s economic powerhouse is lower than its neighbouring countries.

“Nigeria's lower life expectancy is partially due to having more deaths in children of 5 years and younger than any other country in the world, including more populous India and China and countries experiencing widespread long-term conflict, such as Somalia,” the report stated.

As the country’s population rises, the report noted that there has been inadequate infrastructure development over the past 30 years thus contributing to increased deaths from trauma through road injuries and conflicts driven by inequitable distribution of resources.

At the core of the approach to addressing Nigeria's health challenges is investing in highly cost-effective health-promoting policies and interventions — especially in improving child nutrition, reducing indoor and outdoor air pollution, addressing unmet family planning needs, and improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

According to the research team, effective, quality reproductive, maternal, and child health services including family planning, and female education and empowerment are likely to accelerate the demographic transition and yield a demographic dividend. It however listed major obstacles for good health in the country as ineffective use of available resources, a dearth of robust population-level health and mortality data, insufficient financing for health and health care, sub-optimal deployment of available health funding to purchase health services, and large population inequities.

Ibrahim Abubakar, the lead author from the Institute for Global Health, London, University College London, noted that Nigeria’s wealth has sadly not equated to health. “We've heard that we live on average just above 55 years, more kids under the age of five are dying in this country than any other place in the world, and our maternal mortality ratio is only better than three countries — Chad, Sierra Leone and South Sudan,” he said. “To solve this issue, we need to focus on the risk factors that underpin the occurrence of diseases, including safe water, sanitation, nutrition, and the usual things you'd expect which require that health has to be in all policies and health can't just be focused in hospitals,” he added.

Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice president, said “I think the report captures what it is that must motivate the government to be more concerned about health policy and especially to place Health Policy at the center of the social contract between the Nigerian citizen and the state,” he said.