Health in Nigeria

​As I write this we are preparing to head out on a medical mission trip to Nigeria. The contrasts between health care in the U.S. vs. a country like Nigeria are so striking. Nigeria is the most populous black country in the world. Over 70% of its population is considered poor with an average annual income of $2,600. Average life expectancy is 47 years in Nigeria while 68 years is the world-wide average and 79 years is the current U.S. average. About one out of every six Nigerians dies before age five.

​We Americans tend to die of diseases of excess or ones that naturally become more prevalent with advanced age: heart disease and cancer are way out in the lead, with chronic lung disease (mostly from smoking), stroke, and accidents rounding out the top five. Eating, smoking and drinking too much, and exercising too little, play heavily into these diseases.

In Nigeria, 8 of the top 10 causes of death involve infectious diseases with the top spots going to HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, malaria, diarrheal diseases and measles. Tuberculosis and whooping cough also appear in the top 10 causes of death in Nigeria. In contrast, the top 10 causes for the U.S. only includes one infectious disease category with the combination of flu and pneumonia coming in at number nine.

Why such a difference in the causes of death? The answers are numerous:
• Lack of adequate water sanitation
• Lack of consistent food sanitation
• Poor nutrition
• Low immunization rates
• Marginal pest controls
• Low availability of quality medical care
And so, the list of diseases that I never see here in the states, but with which I need some familiarity, is a bit mind-boggling: diseases like yellow fever, typhoid, guinea worm, dengue fever, river blindness, lassa fever, hepatitis, schistosomiasis, and even plague. In contrast, chronic diseases that we treat so commonly here, such as diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and elevated cholesterol, won’t even show up on my radar. The people we will be seeing will not have access to the kind of ongoing follow-up that would be needed to effectively treat these. Likewise, the infectious diseases we have mentioned are much more likely to cut short their life than arteries getting blocked by plaque from cholesterol.

​Our group of 11, including my spry 87 year old father-in-law, realize our efforts are the proverbial drop in the bucket in a land of such need. But we hope our labors will be a tangible expression of concern and compassion, done in the name of Christ as we seek to bring a small bit of relief to a few. And the experience of working in these needy places is always a reminder of how materially blessed we are in our own country. This is always an eye-opening experience for me, and in this case, for my teenage youngest daughter as well. Blessings!

Andrew Smith, MD is board-certified in Family Medicine and practices at 1503 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. Contact him at 982-0835