There’s a problem in Nigeria that no one disagrees with: when people here die young, they usually die from diseases that could have been prevented or treated.
Doctors say child mortality is rising in places like Zamfara State in the north, where a lead poisoning outbreak has killed more than 400 children under the age of five since March 2010.
Families in the southern Niger Delta region, an area activists call “the world’s largest oil spill,” say their children’s immune systems are weakened from drinking toxic water, and that children frequently die from diseases like cholera and malaria.
Dr. Adamu Onu, a family practitioner in Abuja, says health crises across the country have the same root cause: poverty. Earlier this year, Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics released a report that said the number of people living in “absolute poverty” has increased from 54.7 percent in 2004 to nearly 61 percent in 2010. He says most of the people in Nigeria simply don’t have access to health care because they live far away from the nearest clinic and don’t have the money or the means to travel to the city. Dr. Onu says there are almost no doctors in the countryside where most of the population lives.
John Brisbe, an elder in a fishing community in Delta State, says when children in his remote region get sick they often die because it can take up to six hours to get to the hospital in a canoe. "They are not taking care of any of our communities. So we are suffering," he said. "Different types of sickness are harming our children because of this river water that we are drinking."