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Communicable diseases, others take deadly toll on Nigerians — STUDY

By Chioma Obinna

A new Annual Global Burden of Disease, GBD, and study has shown that more Nigerians are dying of communicable diseases including malaria, diarrhoea, lower respiratory diseases and HIV among others.

A child being immunised against meningitis

According to the study, the top five causes of premature death in Nigeria are malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, HIV, neonatal encephalopathy, and lower respiratory infection.

The study which is the world’s largest scientific collaboration on population health also found that the life expectancy in Nigeria is also increasing, infants and children are at particular risk from these diseases, and neonatal ailments like sepsis and encephalopathy kill thousands of Nigerian infants.

It revealed new trends in illnesses, deaths, and risk factors leading to poor health, adding that these diseases are still taking the lives of far too many Nigerians.

However, globally, it notes that countries have saved more lives over the past decade, especially among children under age five, but persistent health problems, such as obesity, conflict, and mental illness, comprise a “triad of troubles,” and prevent people from living long and healthy life.

Reacting to this year’s version of the annual Global Burden of Diseases Study, GBD,  composed of five peer-reviewed papers, and published in the international medical journal, ‘The Lancet’ , Director, Center for Healthy Start Initiative, Jacob Olusanya  said: “Life expectancy in Nigeria is growing, but people in many other sub-Saharan African countries are living longer, healthier lives. We have much more work to do.”

Focusing on Nigeria, the study found that a Nigerian man born in 2016 can expect to live 63.7 years, an increase in life expectancy of seven years over the past decade. A woman has a life expectancy of  66.4 years, up 8.1 years from 2006. It said illness and injuries take away years of healthy life.

“A Nigerian male born in 2016 will live approximately 55.5 years in good health; a female will live only 57.2 years. Nigeria has a higher life expectancy than South Africa, Niger, or Cameroon, but it lags behind Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.”

The study also found that deaths of children under 5 are a persistent health challenge. The study notes: “For every 1,000 live births, 46.6 Nigerian children under the age of five die. That far exceeds the global figure of 38.4, and the regional average of countries in western sub-Saharan Africa, which is 40.7.  Only a few countries in the region – such as Niger, Mali, and Chad – have higher rates of under-five mortality.

“Moreover, in 2016, for the first time in modern history, fewer than 5 million children under age  five died in one year, as compared to 1990 when 11 million died”

However, researchers have attributed the global health landmark to improvements in increased educational levels of mothers, rising per capita incomes, declining levels of fertility, increased vaccination programs, mass distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, improved water and sanitation, and a wide array of other health programs funded by development funding for health.

In the views of Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Dr. Christopher Murray,  “Death is a powerful motivator, both for individuals and for countries, to address diseases that have been killing us at high rates.”

“But, we have been much less motivated to address issues leading to illnesses. A ‘triad of troubles’ – obesity, conflict, and mental illness, including substance use disorders – poses a stubborn and persistent barrier to active and vigorous lifestyles.”

One of the most alarming risks in the GBD is excess body weight. The rate of illness related to people being too heavy is rising quickly, and the disease burden can be found in all sociodemographic levels. High body mass index (BMI) is the fourth largest contributor to the loss of healthy life, after high blood pressure, smoking, and high blood sugar.

The study’s other findings include; poor diet is associated with one in five deaths globally.

Non-communicable diseases were responsible for 72 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2016, in contrast to 58 percent in 1990.  Tobacco is linked to 7.1 million deaths, and in more than 100 countries, smoking was among the leading risk factors for loss of healthy life.   The leading causes of premature death globally included: ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections, diarrhoa-related diseases, and road injuries.

Ischemic heart disease was the leading cause of premature death for men in 113 countries and for women in 97 countries.   Only four of the leading 20 causes of disability in 2016 – stroke, COPD, diabetes, and falls –were also leading causes of death.

It however concluded that the top conditions in 2016 that made people sick, but were not necessarily fatal were: low back pain, migraine headaches, hearing loss, iron-deficiency anemia, and major depressive disorders.


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