Millions of Nigerians have been pushed into poverty due to deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country; consequently, they are not only squeezed financially, their health is in jeopardy as many are now suffering serious medical conditions such as hypertension.
This is a case of forty-five year old Iruke Faith and mother of two, who shared a shrill experience of her battle with hypertension early February 2023.
Faith, who is a petty trader and resident of Bwari Area Council, lamented that the last three years have been a struggle, catering for family and managing her struggling business, amid the rising cost of living. She said her husband earns peanut from the local government job that can’t even sustain the family of four for a week.
“One fateful Saturday, I had just finished packing up drinks in my big cooler for sale and by the time I could stand up, I just collapsed. I was taken to the clinic. The doctor on duty said my blood pressure was very high and that I am stressing too much. I have been having serious headaches and dizziness but I thought its just tiredness.
“Things have been difficult, most times, the cost of business is more than profit and I have to work harder to make some more money because my first son will be going to the university this year. Now, I am on medication and have to limit some things and food I eat,” she said.
Faith lamented that the epileptic power supply which has gotten worse and persistently rising cost of goods are some of the factors that have been limiting her business from expanding over the years. She also expressed her disappointment in government, saying “they have made things worse for us, especially those of us on this side of life with no help at the top.”
Another distraught Nigerian, Seun Idris, a business man and resident in Bwari, said he was diagnosed with hypertension for the first time in December 2022.
“I went to the clinic to run a test, it’s for a job I am applying for. I was so surprised when the nurse told me my blood pressure is high and even gave me medication,” he said.
Like Faith, Idris said cost of living is heaping pressure on him daily. “I can’t see the impact of government’s so-called social policies because things have only gotten really bad. I have searched for job for more than five years; I was frustrated and got into business, but even that has many challenges,” he said.
Recent studies reveal that cases of hypertension is on the rise throughout the country. Currently, at least 76.2 million Nigerians are living with hypertension also known as high blood pressure according to the World Health Organisations (WHO) .
Hypertension is a serious medical condition that significantly increases the risks of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is a leading cause of death and mortality in Nigeria which appears to be among the worst hit according to WHO.
The 2021 journal of clinical hypertension reveals that nearly a third of Nigerians experience high blood pressure, a figure which has grown by 540 percent since 1995.
Sadly, experts say the burden has worsened, and will continue to without action. Medical doctors , nurses and other health professionals who spoke to BusinessDay say they are seeing increasing cases of hypertension among patients who throng their hospitals daily.
Finbas Odey, manager and founder of Brighter Life Hospital in Bwari said the number of patients visiting his hospital and diagnosed with hypertension have increased dramatically. He revealed that the medical condition is now rising among the younger population, especially between 28-33 years.
The medical doctor said among other risk factors, the prevailing economic hardships coupled with the stress induced by the naira scarcity and election brouhaha are fuelling cases. According to him, 40 percent of new cases reported is his hospital are caused by stress resulting from daily struggle to make ends meet.
“It is alarming among the youths, because the stress increases the risks. Job opportunities have reduce drastically, it is so alarming”, he said.
Also, Cynthia Preston, who runs a private health and fitness centre in Abuja disclosed that seven out of ten of her clients suffer high blood pressure. “Its is really scary, people are anxious and developing this condition everyday. No doubt, the financial hardship and poverty on this country is a culprit “, she said.
According to Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report launched late 2021 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), at least 133 million Nigerians, representing 63 percent of the population are multi-dimensionally poverty.
But, BusinessDay recalls that President Muhammadu Buhari had pledged to raise an additional 100 million out of poverty by 2030, which implies an average of 10 million people must be lifted out of poverty each year, starting in 2020.
More so, unemployment, which puts so much pressure and anxiety on youths has worsened. The latest unemployment figures released by KPMG estimates that unemployment rate will rise to 40.6 percent in 2023. KPMG is global professional group that provides audit, tax and advisory services.
In its report, ‘Global Economic Outlook’, the KPMG said unemployment in Nigeria will remain a major problem due to limited investment in the economy, low industrialisation and sluggish economic activity. Also, the inability of the economy to absorb the over five million young school leavers yearly into the labour market will also worsen the problem.
Some of the established risk factors for the medical condition include unhealthy diet such as high salt and low fruit and vegetable intake; physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol use; and obesity. In Nigeria, poverty has been identified by the WHO and several experts as a major risk factor.
Kingsley Akinroye, executive director of the Nigeria Health Foundation noted that cases of hypertension have increased in the country over the years. Data from the NHF show that between 30 and 40 percent of over 200 million Nigerians live with hypertension.
Abayomi Sarumi, an expert at the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, which involves in Public health advocacy, also alluded to the fact that poverty impacts on the hypertension burden. According to him, poor food choices increases risks, but poverty influences a person’s diet.
“Poor Nigerians would often settle for what is affordable which often than not, increases their risk of hypertension”, he said. Sarumi wants government to double efforts to tackle the disease, and eliminate trans fats from Nigerian foods.
Onyechi Adaobi, a health expert expressed concern that high blood pressure is a silent killer, but most people are not aware and cases are rising. She also what’s all relevant stakeholders to intensify awareness and improve access to treatment for the disease.
According to the 2021 journal of clinical hypertension, 29 percent of sufferers are aware they have the condition, while only 12 percent are on treatment. In addition, the rising burden widens the inequality gap, contributes to economic hardships of patients and carers, and increases costs to the health system.
Adaobi decried that the condition adds additional burden of accessing care to sufferers especially amid the absence of health insurance.
According to the National Health Insurance Authority, less than 10 percent of Nigerians have health insurance and million others pay out of pocket.