Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Why do Nigerians die?

Joseph Hundeyin
Lagos, Nigeria

woman holding a child
Nigerian woman at a health education session. Photo by Susan Elden/DFID on Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 2.0.

A mere glance at the question “Why do Nigerians die?” would lead one to think it is one of the simplest questions ever asked. But on a closer look, one would discover that the question is indeed a deep one with unending answers.

It is natural for people to die. Even in the best countries where everything works as close to perfect as possible, people still die. But when the life expectancy is 52.5 years—the lowest in West Africa according to the Nigerian Center for Disease Control—questions like this would definitely arise.1

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to health. Ignorance is perhaps the world’s number one killer. Nigeria has an adult illiteracy level of 39.9% according to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),2 meaning that close to half of its people are uneducated and carry out many unhygienic and harmful practices such as the use of herbal concoctions, child marriages, female genital mutilation, and rejection of Western medicine [especially vaccines]. These practices predispose Nigerians to infections and eventual death, and as long as so many Nigerians remain uneducated, the mortality figures will remain high.

Health is wealth and likewise poverty is not health. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Factbook, 70% of Nigerians still live below the poverty line of one United States dollar per day.3 I can only imagine how ridiculous it would be to ask someone who does not want to die of starvation to spend the little change he has to buy a drug or to visit a doctor. Good health costs money. Healthy eating, proper housing, and disease prevention do not come cheap. For a population where only 30% can afford to worry about things besides food, death will simply not cease to stop knocking on the doors.

A great part of providing good healthcare hinges on having a standardized infrastructure that can deliver it. The total number of hospitals, public and private alike, cannot service the needs of Nigerians. Public hospitals are not easily accessible; they are understaffed; equipment is either not available, damaged beyond repair, or in short supply; ambulance services are not optimal; the list goes on. Hospitals never run themselves. They need trained staff with good clinical skills. Unfortunately Nigerians keep dying as long as such attributes are lacking.

The mentality of the average Nigerian is not pro-health. For various reasons, the average Nigerian believes “disease no dey catch black man,” which simply means a black man does not fall ill. So preventive medicine is in shambles, and routine medical check-ups are luxuries of no real use to the average Nigerians. They visit the doctor only when they are sick, often when disease has progressed to the point of inevitable death. Rather than preventing illness we spend the inadequate resources we have on curative medicine with success rates that do not impact the maternal mortality rate of 814 per 100,000 live births or the physician density of 0.41 per 1,000 people.3 Nigeria spends a dismal 1.7% of her gross domestic product (GDP) on public health. Someone tell me why Nigerians should not die.

Almost every Nigerian problem discussed would have corruption mentioned, and health is no exception. There are great laws to protect and promote the health of Nigerians. But of what use are these laws if they cannot be implemented? The National Health Insurance Scheme, though having played an impressive part in the healthcare system, is still widely inaccessible, does not cover a wide range of treatment options, and is riddled with massive corruption. Other factors also come into play, such as incessant doctors’ strike, substandard medical private practices, and unwise government policies.

Death is a natural occurrence that every person must succumb to. But when this happens too often and earlier than expected, then the system must be failing. When next someone asks why Nigerians die, I hope this essay readily comes to mind.


  1. Center for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/countries/nigeria/. Accessed 30th March, 2016.
  2. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund. Situation Analysis of Women and Children in Nigeria. http://www.unicef.org/nigeria/SITAN_UNICEF_Nigeria_2011_FINAL_2012_Sept.pdf. Accessed 30th March, 2016.
  3. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ni.html. Accessed 30th March, 2016.

JOSEPH HUNDEYIN, MBBS, was born in 1990 and had his primary and secondary education in Lagos before proceeding to the Lagos State University [College of Medicine] and earning a degree in medicine and surgery in 2014. He volunteered as a call centre representative in Nigeria during the Ebola Viral Disease outbreak, and currently works as a medical officer with the Nigeria Police Clinic, Osun Command.

Spring 2016



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