By Cosmas Omegoh
Over two thirds of all deaths associated with COVID-19 deaths in Edo State occurred in older persons, and this is likely to be the case across Nigeria, in a stark indication that deaths from the pandemic have disproportionally affected larger numbers of older persons in the society.
Professor Obehi Akoria, an expert in Medicine at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital revealed this at the inaugural High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs Memorial Lecture held at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt titled: “Person-centred Medicine, the way forward for geriatrics healthcare in Nigeria.”
“The death statistics underline the vulnerability of older persons in epidemic and pandemic situations and further highlight the need for person-centred approaches to disease prevention, diagnosis and management in the elderly,” she said.
The memorial lecture has been established by the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation to commemorate and honour his legacy as one of Nigeria’s most distinguished statesmen on the occasion of his 3rd posthumous birthday.
Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs, chairman of the foundation said the lecture series will invite distinguished leaders to speak about the opportunities to elevate health, education, peacekeeping and economic empowerment and inspire urgent action on all fronts by key stakeholders across the country.
“These are the issues on which the high chief focused his philanthropic investments because he believed in their important and central roles in building vibrant inclusive nations,” she said.
A man of ideas and one blessed with the energy and resources to push these through, “High Chief Lulu-Briggs was a major pillar of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the association of eminent national leaders that fought and risked everything for the restoration of democracy for the Fourth Republic. Over the intervening years, he continued to support efforts to deepen our democracy and make our society one that is more responsive to the needs of all its citizens. It is our hope that the ideas that would come out of the lecture series would further this work and proffer actionable solutions to the challenges of our times.”
Prof. Akoria, whose lecture dwelt on Geriatrics and person-centred healthcare for the elderly, noted that since 1975, annual mortality rate in persons aged 60 years and above in Nigeria is estimated to have increased substantially from 160 to 240 deaths per thousand population.
“Mortality in this age group peaked in 2020 – probably due to deaths that were hastened or directly caused by COVID 19,” she said. “I will make bold to state that a person-centred approach to providing healthcare for the elderly is one way to stymie the upward trend in 60+ mortalities in our country. This is one of the values that Geriatrics brings on board.”
She revealed that despite the large number of the elderly in the country, Geriatrics is a young field of Medicine in Nigeria – and indeed globally.
In 2020, Nigeria had the largest percentage of older population in Africa (10.9 million) and the 19th largest in the world. This is projected to triple to about 33.2 million in 2050, which will be the 11th largest percentage of older population in the world
“The first dedicated centre to offer specialised Geriatrics services in Nigeria is the Chief Anthony Anenih Geriatric Centre in UCH, Ibadan which began operation on February 26, 2013,” she said. “The second dedicated unit is the Geriatrics Unit in University of Benin Teaching Hospital which began operations on March 14, 2014.”
To underline the importance of specialised medicare for the elderly, Prof Akoria stated that despite making up only 5-6% of Nigeria’s population and the population of Edo State, close to 43 per cent of visits to the medical emergency room in UBTH in 2019 was from persons aged 60 years and above.
“Older persons in Nigeria deserve to have healthcare that is structured and suited to their unique needs,” she said. “Such care should be provided by persons with appropriate training in a manner and within environments that respect their dignity, autonomy, values and preferences.”
Chairman of the occasion and Amayanabo of Opobo, King Dandeson Douglas Jaja, while inaugurating the advisory committee of the endowment fund, noted that best way to immortalise High Chief (Dr.) O. B. Lulu-Briggs was to keep his legacies alive. According to him, “during his sojourn on earth, Chief chose philanthropy as the springboard for his deeds. Opuda as he was fondly called, can only live if we keep his legacies alive.
Among those who graced the event were the Deputy Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Mrs. Ipalibo Harry-Banigo; Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, and the Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.