July 03, 2010

Overcoming Low Life Expectancy in Africa: How to live longer and healthier

When this article was first written in July 2010, official figures for life expectancy in most African countries were at record low levels, for example Nigeria had a life expectancy of 47 years. Since then, it appears some countries in Africa have worked to improve life expectancy impressively, while others continue to decline including Nigeria which I used as an example in the original article.

I had gone on to point out that extreme physical and mental stress almost on a daily basis, inefficient political leaders, lack of basic amenities like portable water, prevalence of fake drugs and very poor healthcare delivery, amongst others, were all contributing to this. I compared the African life expectancy to that of the average American which had risen to between 75-80 years, and proposed that all Africans should take responsibility for their health at a personal level, since there was no government interest in most African states.


Life expectancy at birth reflects the overall mortality level of a population. It summarizes the mortality pattern that prevails across all age groups in a given year – children and adolescents, adults and the elderly. Global life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 71.4 years (73.8 years for females and 69.1 years for males), ranging from 60.0 years in the WHO African Region to 76.8 years in the WHO European Region, giving a ratio of 1.3 between the two regions.

Map of Africa with colonial borders (Image credit: Martin23230 via Wikimedia Commons)

Women live longer than men all around the world. The gap in life expectancy between the sexes was 4.5 years in 1990 and had remained almost the same by 2015 (4.6).

Global average life expectancy increased by 5 years between 2000 and 2015, the fastest increase since the 1960s. Those gains reverse declines during the 1990s, when life expectancy fell in Africa because of the AIDS epidemic, and in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The 2000-2015 increase was greatest in the WHO African Region, where life expectancy increased by 9.4 years to 60 years, driven mainly by improvements in child survival, and expanded access to antiretrovirals for treatment of HIV.

Simple things to help you live a while longer

We can take simple measures to give time the finger and lengthen our lives.

1). Simple things to do
Mentally, in the course of everyday life, chances are that the average human being has some millions of brain cells ‘on fire’. A simple remedy to this is to drink lots of water and exercise at least 20 - 30 minutes two to three times a week.

MESSAGE: The little simple things, done faithfully day after day, all add up. Don't neglect them.

2). Protect your heart
It’s easy to write off heart trouble as something that plagues only cheeseburger-grubbing big, fat and old people. Cardiovascular disease is a huge concern for both men and women and is a number one killer. It is possible to reduce the risk of heart disease by 82 per cent with simple lifestyle changes such as adding exercise into your schedule, limiting fatty foods, cutting or stopping alcohol consumption, and definitely stopping tobacco intake. Prevention of cardiovascular diseases starts from now no matter your age. In fact, the younger the age at which one starts, the better the results.

MESSAGE: Cardiovascular disease is no respecter of ages. Young people have been known to develop serious cardiovascular conditions, with some coming to the hospital as strokes, heart attacks, and even death. DO not neglect to take care of your heart.

3). Learn to prioritise
One famous doctor once said that Nigerians spend more on funerals and parties than on their health. Although this is not true for everyone, it is nonetheless a very important and significant point.

MESSAGE: spend money to obtain appropriate health care and health information from properly qualified health care personnel for yourself and your dependents so as to improve and maintain a high quality of life.

4). Don’t self-medicate
There was a woman who died from heart attack. When she had the early signs of an impending attack, she preferred to buy pain relievers not knowing the real source of her pains. Self-medication is a potential killer.

MESSAGE: Know your first aid, but be sure to consult a properly qualified medical or health care personnel immediately you have a strange unexplained symptom.

5). Be versatile in first aid techniques
Accidents, whether domestic or commercial, are inevitable. Many lives have been lost because people around accident scenes are ignorant of the first thing to do with a sick patient and so by the time they rush the person to the hospital, it may be too late.

It is sad to see people moping at accident victims and when they even try to help, they are likely to worsen the situation. I have had two young men rushed into a hospital casualty after they were electrocuted. They were brought in dead. A simple cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) started IMMEDIATELY following their electrocution, and continued while transporting them to the hospital, may have saved their lives. Instead, they were bundled into a car and driven over several miles to a hospital emergency unit, without receiving any initial resuscitation at the scene of the accident.

MESSAGE: A stitch in time always saves nine. First aid classes could be taken at the Red Cross or St. Johns; you never know when the knowledge will come in handy.

6). Go for annual medical checks
Aside from following all the obvious health rules (don’t smoke, keep your weight in check, don’t overindulge in alcohol, etc.), your best measure is to stay vigilant with medical checkups to reveal the possibility of any silent but ongoing health issue in time, and also to mind who you move with and where you go to and how you go to places since lifestyle and environments play a major role in maintaining good quality health.

MESSAGE: Don't just read these pages. Do them, and also see the doctor every year, at the very least.

Knowing the rules is not good enough but sticking to them and above all, valuing yourself and your health because if you do, you would do anything and everything possible to protect it.

First written 03.07.2010; rewritten 03.07.2016.

1). World Health Organization: Life Expectancy. Global Health Observatory (GHO) data. Accessed 6th June 2016. Available here: http://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/situation_trends_text/en/
2). Centers for Disease Control: Life Expectancy. Accessed 4th June 2016. Available here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm
3). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: List of countries by life expectancy. Accessed 2nd June 2016. Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

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