The life expectancy of a female child born in Nigeria today is 53.7 years. By comparison, a female child born in the US has a life expectancy of 81.9 years; Ghana (61.2years), Somalia (53.7 years) and Sudan (65.5 years).1 On average, female children born in developed countries are expected to live about 30 years longer than those born in developing countries.1 If one considers these projections, especially in light of the known burden of vaccine-preventable diseases, poor health systems and the hostile social-cultural environment in which girls are raised in many African countries, one may understand why life expectancy is low in this part of the world.
Despite the odds stacked against the female child born in a country like Nigeria, many of the health problems contributing to low life expectancy in women are very preventable.
For example, pregnancy-related deaths are especially common among women living in developing countries like Nigeria, causing one death in ten minutes, every day.Nonetheless, many pregnancy-related complications can be prevented by regular antenatal clinic visits and supervised deliveries.Female deaths caused by chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes, cervical and breast cancers are also preventable.
The most important barrier to reducing deaths caused by these diseases is the poor attitude of women to preventive services.
Most women only go to the hospital when they are sick or too weak to resist being taken there by family members. To address the widening gap in life expectancies between women living in the first and third worlds therefore, our attention must shift towards healthy living habits and available preventive health services.
Weight Control and Exercises
A woman’s risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, sleep disorders, as well as breast and endometrial cancers is tied in so many ways to her weight. Every woman should know her ideal weight. And if possible, learn to calculate her own body mass index (simply, weight in kg divided by the square of height in cm). But before embarking on any weight-loss activity, every woman should visit her doctor to be sure that the cause of the weight gain is not some underlying hormonal imbalance, such as low thyroid hormone. Note that extreme dieting does more harm than good. A diet low in salt, saturated fats and processed sugars is a good place to start. When combined with regular exercises, a woman can improve her own chances of living longer.
Challenge: Buy a weighing scale. See a dietitian. Change your eating habits. Start exercising. A walk around your neighborhoodwill go a long way.
Pap smear and Mammograms
The Pap smear is the most effective population-based screening test ever developed. It has drastically reduced the risks associated with cervical cancer worldwide. Unfortunately, many women living in developed countries have never received a Pap test. It is cheap and easy to receive. Many women, especially people of faith, avoid screening tests for several reasons.
Even so, taking a Pap smear does not invalidate your faith. It may actually keep you alive longer in the “land your Lord has given to you”.
The Mammogram on the other hand, is a screening test for breast cancer. Ideally, every woman above 40 years, especially those with any close relative with breast disease or cancer, should have a mammogram annually.
Challenge: Book an appointment to see your gynaecologist. Schedule and go for a Pap test and or Mammogram this year.
Blood Pressure (BP), Blood Sugar and Cholesterol tests
Hypertension is a silent killer. Surprisingly, it is very easy to diagnose and monitor. Many battery-powered BPmeasuring devices are available for over-the-counter purchase. It is recommended that women with normal blood pressure levels (120/80mmHg) should do a clinic BP check at least once every two years. Women with BP between 120/80mmHg and 139/89mmHg should test at least once a year, while hypertensive women with BP of 140/90mmHg and above must comply with their medications and check their BP regularly. Also, blood-sugar monitoring devices are readily available for the health conscious woman. Women who have family history of heart disease, obesity, diabetes or blood lipid abnormalities should endeavor to regularly check their blood sugar and lipid levels.
The Bible says “obedience is better than sacrifice”. Sometimes, it is much easier and cheaper to prevent diseases than to manage them.
Activating the covenant of long life sometimes begins with simple choices of food and exercises. The odds may be stacked against the average Nigerian woman from birth, but each person, making better choices can choose life and beat those oddsevery day.
Dr. Abayomi Ogunwale M.D, MPH.