Weak naira, high import tariffs drive up essential drug prices

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Depreciating currency, hoarding, importation of drugs and raw valued currency, and high tariffs on pharmaceutical imports are driving up the costs of drugs in Nigeria.

Findings by our correspondent showed that some medications have skyrocketed as much as 200 percent or 300 per cent.

For instance, the Diabetes Association of Nigeria warned of a potentially catastrophic existential threat to the lives of over six million Nigerians living with diabetes due to the increase in the price of diabetes medications and supplies.

The association said the price of insulin, a critical and lifesaving drug for diabetes patients, had risen by about 200 per cent from N4,000 to N12,000.

The association said, “This has led to substantial non-compliance with a resultant increase in diabetes complications and death nationwide. The oral hypoglycemic and commodities for monitoring have equally witnessed a skyrocketing price.”

Patients suffering from life-threatening diseases are lamenting under the weight of the price hikes.

The Chairman of DAN, Lagos state chapter, Mr. Abdulwahab Dauda, decried the implications of the hike in prices of drugs.

“Already, we are recording complications from our members. When they develop diabetic wounds, there is no alternative but to get medical attention. It’s a huge problem for the patients because they cannot afford the drugs.

“It is worse for some diabetic patients we don’t know or have access to. No doubts we are going to have more people who have their legs amputated if there is no help, but there is nothing they can do than getting the required medications they need,” Mr Dauda said.

Another cancer patient who identified herself as Yemisi said, she relies on funds from relations, friends, and non-governmental organisations for her treatment and medications.

“How much is my salary to cater for my medications? Treating cancer is draining financially, and emotionally, but I have to keep hoping and keep pushing.

“It’s getting worse by the day. I just try not to think about it sometimes,” she noted.

Meanwhile, healthcare providers also said the growing trend of the costs of drugs was leading to patients rationing medicines and risking their lives, due to lack of funds.

A community pharmacist in Osogbo, Osun State, Tosin Adaramola, said many patients now resort to herbal concoctions and primordial solutions.

“For medicine to be medicine, it has to be affordable. You can’t imagine what would happen if people could not afford their medications.

“The implication of resorting to concoctions and other unproven solutions is that it can result in liver damage and kidney damage.

“As pharmacists, we are not pleased with the situation; we are also concerned about people not being able to care for their loved ones, and they are grounded when they are not able to afford their medications. Some people will definitely die, if they can’t afford the medications, we can’t rule that out,” Adaramola said.

Also, the National Chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Adewale Oladigbolu stated that the impact of the rising costs of drugs cannot be described.

“The more the naira depreciates, the higher the prices of medicines, and we are so concerned because medicines are responsible for the elongation and sustenance of lives. When the naira is unstable, the prices of medicines will keep going up because if the naira is stable, the importers of raw materials and finished products can estimate and forecast, but since the naira is unstable, they are most likely to overestimate the depreciation of the naira,” Oladigbolu explained.

The pharmacist urged the government to close the open markets in the country based on the policy on the national distribution guidelines.

“People in the open market hoard medicines, and that is one of the reasons for the high cost of drugs. The government should also remove tariffs as a matter of urgency on the importation of medicines, finished products, and raw materials.

“The government should also provide no-interest loans to the pharmaceutical industry, including the value chain system.”

He feared that many patients who are unable to afford the drugs may end up dying.

Recently, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof Muhammad Pate said the Federal Government will issue an executive order to control pharmaceutical pricing and lower the cost of necessary medications in Nigeria.

Pate, who with State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Bola Tinubu, noted that the executive order aims at enabling local drug manufacturers to thrive while ensuring fair pricing of essential medicines.

Meanwhile, a medical expert and Chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association, Oyo State Chapter, Dr Wale Lasisi said, “The high cost of drugs is basically because of the exchange rate. Most of the drugs are imported and local production is not been encouraged.

“Even when there is local production, most of the raw materials have to be imported, coupled with the high cost of energy for local production. Also, there is no corresponding rise in the living wage for the average earner.

“Recently, we had a case of a patient who was been treated outside in a private facility, and by the time the patient came to the government facility, the drug was changed to the branded drug, within 24 hours, there was a massive improvement.”

A pediatrician and endocrinologist at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital, Bauchi State, and chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association in the state, Dr Bashir Faruk, lamented that the current inflation in the country was affecting the quality of healthcare delivery in the clinic.

Faruk said that patients with diabetes, especially the Type 1 commonly found in children had stopped coming to the clinic as the price of insulin skyrocketed between N15,000 to N20,000 from the previous N3000.

Source: The Punch

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