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Rise in cost of drugs worsens access to healthcare delivery

The rising cost of drugs caused by inflation has further hampered access to health services in the country with many sick Nigerians unable to afford medication, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.

Amid the soaring costs of food, utilities, and other essentials, many find it difficult to afford the necessary prescriptions, forcing indigent patients to seek alternative herbal treatment.

Nigeria’s annual food inflation rate was 40.01 per cent in March 2024, 15.56 per cent higher than the 24.45 per cent rate in March 2023.

Food inflation rose by 3.09 per cent to 40.01 per cent from 37.92 per cent in February, indicating that the cost of a healthy diet rose faster month-on-month compared to food inflation.

The national average cost of healthy diet was N982 in March 2024, which is 4.7 per cent higher than the amount recorded in February 2024.

Meanwhile, workers have complained that the current minimum wage of N30,000 ($21) cannot sustain workers, amid the galloping inflation.

Drug prices soar

Findings by our correspondent showed that the prices of some antimalarial drugs had increased from 11 per cent to around 23 per cent between November 2023 and April 2024.

In November, an Artesunate injection of 120mg was sold for N2,500, while the 60mg of the injection was sold for N1,800.

The cost of Coartem 80/480mg was around N3,300, while Amatem Soft Gel was sold for N2,500, and Lonart 80/480mg, for N2,850.

However, in April, market surveys showed that Artesunate 120mg now sells for N2,800 (12 per cent increase), while 60mg of the injection now sells for N2,000 (11 per cent increase). Coartem 80/480mg is now sold for N4,000 (a six per cent increase).

Amatem soft gel increased by over 20 per cent as it now sells for around N3,000. Lonart 80/480mg now sells for N3,500, which is a 22 per cent increase.

These circumstances are, however, forcing many patients to skip their life-saving medications, and instead turn to unapproved alternatives and counterfeit drugs.

Analysts have attributed the surge in drug prices to factors such as the devaluation of the national currency, unstable foreign exchange rates, reliance on imported active pharmaceutical ingredients, and heavy dependence on drug imports.

The rising prices of medications in Nigeria are making it difficult for many, including vulnerable populations and those with salaries, to afford essential drugs.

Patients lament

Also, patients battling terminal illnesses who need medication to survive, have lamented, saying that the prices of medication have forced them to patronise alternative medicine.

Consequently, there’s a concerning increase in the purchase of cheap but potentially dangerous counterfeit drugs.

Some patients informed our correspondent that they were currently teetering on the edge as they were disproportionately affected by the high drug costs.

Mrs Ada Ejim, suffering from arthritis, endured days of joint pain due to the unavailability of her prescribed anti-inflammatory medication. Despite the efforts by her children to procure the medicine from a drug hawker, her condition persisted.

Expressing her distress, the 61-year-old Abuja resident highlighted her financial constraints, relying solely on her children for support.

Similarly, a civil servant, Mrs Faith Ayodele, recounted the financial strain incurred while treating her daughter’s malaria.

After spending significant sums on tests and medication at a local chemist, her daughter’s condition worsened, necessitating emergency hospitalisation.

In sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 267,000 deaths per year are linked to falsified and substandard antimalarial medicines, the 2022 transnational organised crime threat assessment by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found.

NMA, PSN react

A medical doctor and the Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Benjamin Olowojebutu, said the implications of resorting to fake and unapproved alternatives were dangerous, but the number of people like Ejim and Ayodele who are turning to them is increasing.

The President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Prof Cyril Usifoh, emphasised the necessity of consistent electricity, stable foreign exchange rates, and sound fiscal policies to tackle the situation.

Usifoh said, “The government has made a policy that we should be producing more of these drugs here, but before they came up with this policy, the stakeholders were not consulted. Right now, we are dialoguing with the government. There’s a lot of discussion going on between the government and the industries.

“We have a quarterly meeting with the Coordinating Minister of Health and the industries have put forward some of the things that are needed. They must create an enabling environment. If electricity is about 70 per cent okay, and the forex is stable, industrialists can plan. It becomes difficult to plan if the forex keeps changing every time.”

On his part, the Chief Medical Director of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Prof Wasiu Adeyemo, said the Federal Government was already encouraging local drug manufacturers to produce drugs.

“The government is encouraging local industries these days because if we continue to import coupled with the exchange rate, it is going to affect the cost of drugs.

“The government has asked hospitals, particularly the federal institutions, to make sure that we patronise locally made pharmaceuticals, including needles and syringes.

“Also, the government is addressing the value chain issue. It has appointed a director on that to pull everybody together, particularly the pharmaceutical industry, and other industries that are related to healthcare. So, the government is making their efforts to make sure that we produce what we need,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Coordinating Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Prof Muhammad Pate, affirmed the government’s dedication to fostering a strong healthcare system, which entails enhancing collaboration between the public and private sectors to ensure the delivery of high-quality services and products.

Pate disclosed this in a post on X within the week.

He noted that the efforts would not only be instrumental in saving lives but also in generating quality, well-compensated employment opportunities with avenues for growth.

“Nigeria’s health sector faces challenges such as high import-dependency, limited local manufacturing, and financial barriers, including high capital costs and restrictive market regulations,” part of the post read.

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