Life Expectancy At Birth In West Africa Now 54.7 To 73 Years – WAHO 

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The director-general, West Africa Health Organisation, Prof. Stanley Okolo.
The director-general, West Africa Health Organisation, Prof. Stanley Okolo.

The life expectancy at birth in member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been pegged at between 54.7 to 73 years, a 2019 study by the West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO) has found.

The WAHO director-general, Dr. Stanley Okolo, who disclosed this to Science Nigeria in Abuja, noted that the Cape Verde Islands and Senegal had the highest of above 65 years. 

Okolo said that the deaths observed in the region can be organised according to a broad category of causes. 

According to him, except for Cape Verde, ECOWAS countries generally show the same pattern in the distribution of causes of death. 

“Communicable diseases cause more than half of all deaths. Notable amongst these is the very high burden of malaria, HIV and viral hepatitis. Non-communicable diseases come after communicable diseases. 

“This burden is due to nutrition-related diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancers. 

“Finally, the share of deaths from injuries (road traffic accidents, occupational accidents, suicides, crimes, etc.) in the region is about one-tenth in each of the countries of the region,” he explained. 

Okolo said the incidence of the major communicable diseases remained high in the region, with new HIV infections at 93 per 100 000 inhabitants in The Gambia and 88 per 100 000 in Guinea Bissau reported in 2020. 

“In contrast, Niger and Senegal had 50 and 80 per 100 000, respectively. Guinea Bissau and Liberia had the highest incidence of TB in 2020. 

“The reported values were 361 and 341 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants respectively. Finally, for malaria, several countries had more than 300 new infections per 1,000 inhabitants – Burkina Faso (399), Mali (387), Benin (386), Liberia (362), Niger (357), Côte d’Ivoire (331) and Sierra Leone (320). It should be noted that Cape Verde has no new cases of malaria,” he said. 

Speaking on the health service coverage in the region, Okolo said that the information on health service coverage was for the year 2020, where countries validated their national data in year n+1 before they were considered official. 

“It is then that WAHO can collect, compile and transmit the regional information.

“The ECOWAS region is still characterised by low health service coverage.  The coverage of health facilities per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020. There are very different values between countries, ranging from 35 per 100 in Cape Verde to less than one in Mali (for primary level health facilities). 

“Three countries (Sierra Leone, Senegal and Liberia) reported more than 7.5 hospitals per million inhabitants. In terms of health facilities providing secondary healthcare, only districts per million inhabitants. 

“An important comment in respect of secondary and tertiary level hospitals is that they are unevenly distributed, often being concentrated in large cities and not always geographically accessible to some,” he said. 

Okolo said that in terms of health personnel, the levels reached were also very low, with the provision of immunisation services posing another challenge. 

“BCG vaccination coverage was on average 93 per cent in the region. While the recommendations for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals call for at least nine doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, 12.7 midwives and 22.8 nurses, the countries in the region that reported their data showed levels far below [this],” he said.

According to him, despite limited available resources, the main services offered to the population have achieved significant coverage rates. “Firstly, about the consultation of pregnant women in the coverage of the first antenatal visit. Liberia has a very low level of coverage with less than one-third of pregnancies being followed up. The highest coverage was observed in Côte d’Ivoire (99 per cent), Cape Verde (92 per cent) and Guinea (91 per cent).” 

He said overall, the coverage of first and fourth antenatal visits between 2018 and 2020 in ECOWAS countries has increased across the region, from 64 per cent to 76 per cent for the first antenatal visit and from 30 per cent to 47 per cent for the fourth in the region. 

He, however, said that there have been significant declines, including a loss of more than 44 percentage points in ‘antenatal one’ coverage and three points in ‘antenatal two’ coverage in Liberia. 

“This reflects the need to sustain efforts. Another important health issue in the provision of health services is vaccination. BCG vaccination coverage was on average 93 per cent in the region. For the third dose of the pentavalent vaccine, it was 93 per cent. 

“Finally, coverage for the measles vaccine was estimated at 90 per cent. In all, 67 per cent of the region’s children between 12 and 23 months of age had received all the vaccines recommended by the expanded programme on immunisation.  

“The breakdown of this statistic by country, however, shows substantial differences between countries such as Cape Verde (97 per cent), Senegal (95 per cent) and Burkina Faso (95 per cent), which have high levels. 

“However, countries such as Niger and Côte d’Ivoire only reported a rate of (32 per cent,), which shows a very high wastage,” he explained. 

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