Drugs price hike: Life expectancy reduction imminent in Nigeria – Experts

The rising price of malaria, antibiotics, anti-diabetes, hypertension drugs and other pharmaceutical products have heightened the fears of increased mortality and reduced life expectancy among Nigerians.

The danger becomes more ferocious as retail prices for commonly used drugs in Nigeria have risen by at least 300 per cent daily untamed.

Apart from food inflation, which stood at 40.01 per cent in March, the inflation rate in pharmaceuticals has witnessed an exponential surge in the last four months.

A recent Market Survey conducted by the HMTV in Abuja showed that the prices of antibiotics and malaria drugs such as Tavernic surged to N25,735 from N11,370 in January, Levofloxacin SGS sold for N1,200 from N550.

Also, Terivid tablet 200mg (N10,320 from N4,460), Coartem 80/480(N6,500 from N1,750), Amatem soft gel (N3500 from N1,375), Lonart 80/480 (3500 from 1,700), Ventolin inhaler is sold at N9,000 as against N2,000, while Seretide inhaler goes for N31,950 as against N8,000, Augmentin 625mg from N14,200 to N25,000.

The fate of most Nigerians who battle to feed with N30,000 minimum wage now lies in the balance.

In an interview last month, Prof Cyril Usifoh, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, blamed the rising prices on the foreign exchange crisis, dependence on medicine imports and rising energy costs.

The Naira closed at N1,234.49 per dollar at the FMDQ market on Monday, and the recent 240 per hike in electricity tariff poses more danger.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, drug imports surged by 68 per cent in the third quarter of 2023.

The development comes amid the exit of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in August last year.

According to a Community Pharmacist, Blessing Adams, the increase in the prices of medicine would lead to many Nigerians dying of chronic diseases.

She said patients now go after alternatives like herbs due to the high cost of prescribed drugs.

“It is pathetic. A patient in my hospital died because of an inability to afford an inhaler.

“Also, a hypertensive patient died because he could no longer afford ARB, CCB and diuretics antihypertensive drugs,” she lamented.

A patient in the National Hospital, Abuja, Isaac Adebayo, lamented that his family is contemplating alternatives due to the high prices of drugs.

“We can no longer afford drugs due to high prices. As I speak to you, my family are looking at alternative treatment outside the hospital”, he said.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Ali Pate, reiterated in February that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is targeting an Executive Order as a short-term measure to reduce the surge in prices of pharmaceutical products; however, this has not come to light.

In an exclusive interview with HMTV on Monday, Dr Uche Ojinmah, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, said the surge in prices of drugs had led to a rise in death rate and a reduction in life expectancy in Nigeria.

He noted that the country was currently facing high prices of medications and a surge in fake drugs.

Ojinmah urged the government to declare an emergency in Nigeria’s health sector to avoid further collapse.

He added that the Nigerian government should look at tax waivers for the imports of medicines and pharmaceuticals and intervention in the local production of drugs.

“We are in a country where for a hypertensive patient, a drug that used to be sold for N2,000 to N4,000 a few years ago is now selling for N39,000 for a monthly dose, and the minimum wage is N30,000.

“Antibiotics are now within the range of N8,000 and above. The cheapest drug now is maybe Paracetamol, within N400 per pack.

“In this country, there will be dual disease burdens. Infection disease and lifestyle disease.

“In the Western world, they are mainly suffering from diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes, hypertension and others, but in Africa, it is a dual disease burden.

“Now patients can’t afford antihypertensive drugs, anti-diabetes drugs, not to mention those with kidney and renal failure. Dialysis is no way out of the reach of many people.

“Those who get infections- young people under five years old are more prone as their parents cannot afford antibiotics. It is not unexpected that the death rate will be high. If we are honest with our data, life expectancy will drop.

“Going to the hospital is one thing, diagnosis is another and getting treatment is another.

“In this discussion, we are not talking about the rise of fake drugs in Nigeria and others that are made with lower ingredients. Some of them are just chalk. All these put together, only God knows how Nigerians are surviving.

“What doctors are suffering now is that you battle with patients who cannot afford drugs due to high prices.

“You give patients a prescription, and they go and come back two to three days later to tell you that they can’t afford it, asking for a cheaper option.

“When a patient returns without taking the prescribed drugs two or three days later, what do you expect?

“Amid the high prices of drugs, some of them are fake. Some are produced with fewer ingredients. You can even verge on the quality of the drug despite the high cost.

“We should declare an emergency in the health sector. We need to set things right. No matter what we do, if we don’t control the cost of drugs, we will soon have a problem in our hands.

“I think the government should agree with local pharmaceutical industries to help them facilitate the production of generic types of these drugs. India did it. When anti-HIV drugs became a problem in India, the government gave funding to local manufacturers to produce them.

“Nigeria’s government can do the same, and local pharmaceutical companies do it.

“Remove taxation on medical and pharmaceutical equipment so they can be procured and produced generically.

“We can’t kill our people because of Patency. Our people should be able to produce locally what they can use locally to care for themselves. That is the fastest solution”, he told HMTV.

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