One of the interesting things about demography is that it gives you the opportunity to see, track and understand population growth as well as the ability to study past trends, current habits and consequently predict the future. While taking a class called ‘changing demographic patterns’, I was able to review more in-depth the ramifications of what population growth will look like for African countries, especially Nigeria. The country’s population has recently been estimated to be 198 million people as at April 2018 . While dealing with the impacts of this on health outcomes and a constantly growing youth population, we cannot ignore our elderly population in policy discussions.
As Nigeria continues to develop, we are now witnessing lifestyle changes; employees doing more sedentary work, rural to urban migration and a host of other issues have made it such that we are experiencing a double burden of disease. This means that while dealing with communicable diseases we are also witnessing a rise in non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart failure, and other chronic conditions. It is important that our policies are able to reflect the needs of a growing aging population, as they will also need support and safety nets.
Forgetting the elderly
In Nigeria, for example, the challenges of discussing solutions for our continued population growth are further compounded by ideological differences. As expected, people have different and complicated interpretations of the role of children, childbirth, and the family structure. However, one group that is often left out of the discussion is of our elderly and geriatric population. As life expectancy continues to increase slowly, bolstered by an increased standard of living and a growing burden of disease , it will be important to come up with solutions that ensure we carry our elderly population along. The World Health Organization (WHO)  estimates that the number of people aged 60 and older will increase from 900 million to 2 billion between 2015 and 2050 globally and as a result, the world is seeing faster aging than in the past. Challenges such as access to healthcare, inadequate support structures as well as a reliance on families as the sole provider of support are affecting Nigeria’s aging population.
These challenges are more evident in rural areas where a good number of elderly are retired farmers, civil servants or traders and struggle more intensely with poverty . In most villages, for example, there are inadequate resources for the elderly to engage actively with each other aside from the usual meeting at festivals, weddings or other celebrations. One of the many challenges our elderly face is loneliness and isolation. Animashaun et Chapman (2017) explains that the absence of national social security schemes also makes it difficult for the elderly to receive care. Without additional funding from the government into programs for the elderly, they are left at a disadvantage.
The future of geriatric care in Nigeria
There is a need to start paying attention to our elderly, as well as coming up with solutions that engage them, keep them active and foster sufficient post-retirement experiences. While this may not seem like an urgent issue due to an impending youth bulge, increase in life expectancy across the country and other African countries, it indicates that our elderly population will need attention in the future, which up to this point has been provided predominantly by family members. Our elderly are especially vulnerable and prone to feel the impacts of economic upheaval and in turn become a burden on their younger more active relatives. Social infrastructure that encourages mobility, recreational centers, and other such methods to engage the elderly are important in helping them maintain a healthy and stress-free life. With no structure in place to offer protection for our elderly, they risk exposure to more diseases, lowered quality of life as well as untimely death. To achieve all of this, different stakeholders will need to come together and put in a more concerted effort in addition with working with and collaborating with other public and private offices to set up great benefits and services for our older population.
- Adeyemo Ifeoluwa (2018). Nigeria’s Population now 198 million. Retrieved from <https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/264781-nigerias-population-now-198-million-npc.html>.
- WHO Country Profile. Nigeria. Retrieved from: <http://www.who.int/countries/nga/en/>.
- WHO Special Topics. Ageing. Retrieved from: <http://www.who.int/ageing/en/>.
- Dokpesi, A.O. (2015). The future of elderly care in Nigeria: borrowing a leaf from a foreign land, Ageing International, 40(2), 81-97.
- Animasahun, V.J., & Chapman, H.J. (2017). Psychosocial health challenges of the elderly in Nigeria: a narrative review, African health sciences, 17(2), 575-583.
Oniye is a graduate with a Master’s in Global Health, and her focus is on Health Policy and Financing. She is interested in creating sustainable solutions and polices can be created across different African countries relating to health, education and governance.