Nigeria makes progress in major health indices but challenges remain

Hospital beds used to illustrate the story.
Hospital beds used to illustrate the story. [PHOTO CREDIT: The Guardian Nigeria]

Nigeria has made progress over the last five years in promoting the wellbeing of its citizens – such as increased levels of breastfeeding and decreased incidence of malaria – yet the newly released 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) shows that significant challenges remain.

The 2018 NDHS results, released Tuesday at a national seminar organised by the National Population Commission, highlight overall progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) yet a few critical indicators have remained unchanged since the last survey in 2013.

“Despite some good news, the Survey also highlights many challenges Nigeria still faces,” said U.S. Charge d’affaires Kathleen FitzGibbon. “Properly harnessed, this data can help improve the health of families and communities throughout Nigeria.”

The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), invested over $8 million of the Survey’s $13 million cost. Ms FitzGibbon said the U.S. has invested in the quinquennial survey because data and evidence are the cornerstones of all successful development programs – especially in health.

While indicators showing that two thirds of pregnant women received antenatal care, and 40% of deliveries were assisted by a skilled provider, remains low by international standards, the uptick testifies that government efforts – especially funding of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund – are making progress in improving access to maternal health services.

READ ALSO: Nigeria pledges to reduce maternal, neonatal mortality through MPDSR

Still, one in eight Nigerian children dies prior to its fifth birthday. The survey showed a rate of 132 deaths per 1,000 live births in the five-year reporting period. UNICEF estimates that approximately a quarter of these deaths could be prevented through routine immunization. More than one in three children remain stunted.

Data showed improvements on both child vaccination and breastfeeding: About 31 per cent of children under two received all eight vaccines of the basic package, up from 13 per cent in 2003, and nearly three in 10 children under six months are exclusively breastfed, up from 17 per cent during the last survey.

However, coverage of routine childhood vaccines remains lower than global benchmarks.

The survey shows progress in the use of zinc supplements to treat diarrhoea, which rose to 31 per cent from a mere two per cent, while treatment was sought for two out of three children suffering the malady.

More women are accessing skilled health care for healthier pregnancies and births. Two-thirds of Nigerian women receive antenatal care from a doctor, nurse, or midwife, an increase from 57 per cent since the first survey. Still, 59 per cent of births take place at home.

About 61 per cent of Nigerian households own at least one insecticide-treated net to prevent malaria, and 52 per cent of respondents said their children slept under one, significantly up from 17 per cent in 2013. Malaria prevalence declined from 42 per cent in 2010 to 23 per cent among children under five; suggesting government programmes –managed in adherence with international treatment guidelines – are helping make Nigeria’s children and families stronger and healthier.

For the first time, the 2018 NDHS provides information on anaemia prevalence among children and adults, malaria prevalence among children, sickle cell disease, as well as disability, showing that 2 per cent of Nigerian men and women report at least one physical or cognitive impairment.

Abimbola Hundeyin, Chairman of the National Population Commission, said the survey’s representative results of key health indicators show that Nigeria is making progress towards achieving the SDGs.

“The Government of Nigeria together with our development partners will use these findings to guide policy and programmatic decisions to ensure healthy lives for all Nigerians,” Ms. Hundeyin said.

Nearly 42,000 people were interviewed for the survey implemented by the National Population Commission in collaboration with the National Malaria Elimination Programme of the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria.

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In addition to USAID, the Global Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, and World Health Organization also provided funding. ICF International provided technical assistance through the USAID-supported DHS Program, which supports the implementation of population and health surveys in countries worldwide.



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