Increasing Life Expectancy in Nigeria Through Higher Health Investments


Friday, December 28 2018 10:30 AM / FDC


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an average Nigerian is expected to live approximately 55.2 years from birth.6 This life expectancy is the sixth lowest in the world. It is also significantly below the global average of 72 years and Africa’s average of 61.2 years. 

A low life expectancy in Nigeria highlights inherent health threatening factors such as stress and a poor standard of living. It also undermines the country’s international reputation.  

A low life expectancy is a strong indication of economic underdevelopment. Nigeria’s low life expectancy also raises some concerns over an official retirement age of 62.5 years (the average for male and female). A life expectancy below the official retirement age underscores the extent of loss to the country’s productive work force. 

The Nigerian government needs to swiftly address the issue of low life expectancy. Empirical evidence from countries with higher life expectancies shows huge investments in health care. Nigeria’s budgetary allocation to the health sector is very low at a per capita rate of $4.7 compared to over $1,000 per person in countries with high life expectancy. 

It is clear that the health sector in Nigeria needs more investment. The increase in government health investments should also be channeled towards tackling diseases, such as tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia that are the leading causes of death in the country.


Life expectancy in Nigeria 

Life expectancy is a statistic that measures the number of years a person may live in relationship to the general population.  In Nigeria, the latest figures from WHO put it at 55.2 years (approximately 55 years, four months). The global life expectancy has been increasing since 2000. 

It currently stands at 72 years. The life expectancy in Africa has also risen to 61.2 years. While Nigeria’s rate has increased, life expectancy in the country has been consistently below both the regional and the global figures. This poor performance has been attributed to a high prevalence of ailments such as influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, stroke, HIV/AIDS and coronary heart  disease.9 Nigeria records the highest number of deaths from tuberculosis in the world. In terms of diarrhoea, the country ranks the fourth highest. 

A low life expectancy mirrors little productivity. It contributed to Nigeria’s low ranking on the global competitiveness index by the World Economic Forum. (Nigeria currently ranks 115th out of 140 countries on the global competitiveness list in 2018, an improvement from 125th in 2017). 

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Raising life expectancy through health investment   

Empirical evidence affirms a positive correlation between government health expenditure and life expectancy. Countries with the highest life expectancy globally, spend between $1,000 - $6,500 per capita on health. For instance, Canada has a life expectancy of 82.8 years with the government’s health expenditure per capita at approximately $6,500. 

The Australian government also spends over $3,000 on each citizen’s health per annum, and the country has a life expectancy of 82.9 years. Nigeria’s case shows the opposite. The country’s health expenditure per capita is as low as $4.95, with an attendant negative impact on life expectancy.  Other countries like Sierra Leone that have the lowest life expectancies in the world incur a health expenditure per capita of $1.7 - $33, which is very low compared to top ranking countries.


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On the global competitiveness index (GCI), Canada, Austria, Japan and Singapore rank between 1st and 15th. On the other hand, all the four  countries identified with the lowest life expectancies hold the lowest 30 positions on the GCI. It is worthy of mention that while robust heath expenditure might not be the only contributor to a high life expectancy in Canada and its peers, it is a major factor.


The Japanese model 

Nigeria could adopt the strategy of raising its per capita health expenditure in order to increase its life expectancy. However, an increase in funding without a strategic plan may not bear the intended results. It is imperative to channel this extra spending towards tackling diseases, such as tuberculosis and influenza that cause the highest number of deaths in the country. Japan provides a case study for how tuberculosis can be controlled through higher government expenditure, particularly if disbursed through subsidies. 

Tuberculosis used to be prevalent in Japan in the 1950s, accounting for approximately 15% of all deaths in the country.16 During that period, the country’s life expectancy was just 52 years, partly due to this epidemic.17 Aside from other spending on basic financing for its health system development, the Japanese government was able to tackle this worrying disease by introducing subsidies to partly cover the cost of tuberculosis treatment. 

This strategy made treatment more accessible, thereby reducing the number of deaths. Tuberculosis now accounts for as low as 0.85 deaths per 100,000 in the country. Over the years, Japan’s life expectancy has also increased by 62% to 84.2 years, to become the highest in the world.18 Meanwhile, it is worth stating that aside from subsidizing health products, government health investment in Nigeria could be channeled towards health research and development. 

Private investment could also be attracted to build health infrastructure such as diagnostic centers. In the event that accessing these infrastructures are unaffordable for the middle and low income earners, the government could also partner with potential private firms to subsidize the cost of healthcare. This will enable affordability for more people.  

The Nigerian government has to implement these measures to raise life expectancy in the country.  The reality is as long as life expectancy remains low, the country will continue to lose its productive work force and remain less competitive in the world. Foreign investors will be wary of these factors, which could translate to a sub-optimal foreign direct investment inflow into the economy. The problem of a low life expectancy is now apparent, and a solution has been proffered. The government should take action. 


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