Does Life Really Begin At 40 In Nigeria? By Niran Adedokun



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niran(1)Wednesday night three weeks ago, television channels in Nigeria fed us with the usual spectacle of reports from the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive, only there was something unusual about that day’s meeting. Briefing newsmen at the end of that meeting, Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu spoke about President Goodluck Jonathan’s approval of the Nigeria National Stroke Prevention Programme.
Chukwu informed the media that government, worried about the alarming rate of sudden death among Nigerians, particularly in their prime, has evolved the programme to encourage people to check up their health status. The minister went ahead to inform that government, in collaboration with federal teaching hospitals and some Nigerians in the Diaspora would bring this programme to Nigerians at the subsidized rate of N10,000 and apparently to lead by example, Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo submitted themselves to demo tests.
As much as I was happy that government had noticed the now rampant loss of lives, especially people in their 40s and 50s, I did not understand how indigent Nigerians, (on whose behalf Chukwu claimed government was spending a N40, 000 subsidy) would access this seemingly laudable idea. I thought to myself that government was either playing politics or they were totally ignorant of the widely known fact that close to 70 percent of Nigerians do not have more than 200 naira in a day. How do such people raise the N10, 000 for these heath checks? Unless of course, the programme is meant for the privileged 30 percent and government really has no care for the bulk of poor people in the country. Not surprisingly, three weeks after the initial drama, we have not heard a word from the Federal Ministry of Health on how Nigerians would access this programme, as out of reach of the common man as it is.
However, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) brought this all important issue back to national consciousness at a press conference announcing its Physicians Week, earlier this week. According to NMA National President, Dr Osahon Enabulele, The association will discuss the theme: “Federalism and Nigeria’s healthcare system-an appraisal of the primary and secondary healthcare system” and the sub-theme ‘demystifying sudden death in Nigeria- developing legislation for regular health check-up in Nigeria,” The NMA then called on the: “executive and legislative arms of government at local, state and federal government levels to create a separate day, at least six-monthly or once a year dedicated to free health check-up by Nigerian citizens under their jurisdiction.” The association went on to lament the alarming rate at which young Nigerians die and called on governments at all level to ensure that citizens of the country have access to proper medical attention to increase life expectancy in the country. This has got me thinking about the health risks that Nigerians bear.
As a child, I heard so much about how life” begins at 40” that I truly imagined that the first 39 years of life was preparatory to the real thing, but general life expectancy in Nigeria and the actual loss of young people have made me begin to wonder if life truly begins at 40.
I understand that this expression was in the reversal of an earlier notion that “death begins at forty” It was said that life expectancy in mediaeval England was around 25 years and only reached 40 sometime around the turn of the 20th century when society could offer a measure of affluence that allowed citizens, especially women some respite from the drudgery that characterised preceding eras.
One account claims that the phrase was first inferred in relation to the health of women. An old article in the New York Times pointed out that Mrs. Theodore Parsons who was Physical Director of Schools in Chicago wrote a book, Brain culture through scientific body building in 1912 where she spoke about the newly found importance of the age of 40. She was quoted in an article reportedly published in The Pittsburgh Press sometime in 1912 as follows: “…Death begins at thirty, that is, deterioration of the muscle cells sets in. Attention to diet and exercise would enable men and women to live a great deal longer than they do today…”
The truth is that the age of 40 comes with a lot of baggage,there is deterioration in the capacity of our bodies when we attain the age of 40. It is like checking out the performance of a brand new car, five years after we bought it. You will discover that each part of the car has suffered different levels of depreciation and that being able to continue to use the car would demand more than mere routine service. It is more or less the same with our bodies.
Human beings have started a downward slope by the time they attain the age of forty. This is more so in this side of the world where a lot of 40-year-olds are still struggling with the vicissitudes of life. Unlike in the days of our fathers, more people in their 40s are raising children as more people have delayed marriages and childbearing. At a stage in which our parents were thinking about consolidation or even retirement, today’s 40 year olds are paying school fees and struggling to make ends meet. The current political climate has also fostered career crashes and unemployment with the result that men and women have to continually re-invent themselves, find new directions and make new choices in their lives.
The position in which a lot of 40 year-olds currently finds themselves would unfortunately likely increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, which are three of the most common conditions to which men and women over the age of 40 are susceptible. The propensity for such afflictions and the complications associated with them is worsened by the poor health infrastructure in our country, the lack of neither adequate health education nor health care delivery, which is why I find the NMA suggestion interesting. It is why I am also thinking that the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) and other labour unions all over the country should begin to take government up on the provision of affordable healthcare for their members.
In Nigeria at the moment, the only places where we find a semblance of community health insurance are in Lagos (which has a scheme for market women) and Kwara (where people from five local governments have access to health insurance) The two states collaborate with the Hygeia Community Health Plan and its foreign partners to provide all year medical treatments for those who present in designated hospitals at the cost of N300 per head. Apart from that, indigent Nigerians are at the mercy of all forms of ailments and health hazards.
As we continue to hope that government would wake up to its responsibility to the citizenry however, it is important that every Nigerian especially those who have attained the age of 40 observe a wellness plan which is not necessarily expensive to maintain. Habits which are important to reducing health risks include maintaining an exercise regime, reducing the intake of alcohol and tobacco, limiting the consumption of sweets, cutting down on meat, especially red meat and other fatty foods, eating plenty fruits and vegetables, restricting sodium intake and getting as much rest as possible.
It is also important to embark on regular check of blood pressure, blood sugar level as well as cancers like prostrate, cervical and breast which are common in men and women who are above 40.
I guess that part of the wisdom that is attributed to the age of 40 is taking your wellbeing into your own hands and deciding to avoid anything which may bring premature death your way. True, the life and death of man is not in his hands but choices about the quality of life that we live are in our hands. I think seeking information about the best choices and making those choices is the wisdom which comes with the age and one sure way to see that live truly begins at 40.
Adedokun, a Lagos-based PR consultant and analyst, wrote in via [email protected] Follow me on Twitter: @niranadedokun


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