Investigation has shown that the prices of essential drugs, such as analgesics and antibiotics, have increased at an alarming rate across the country.
The unit prices of prescription medicines, such as those used to lower blood pressure for hypersensitive and diabetic patients, have also shot up so much so that some patients have started ‘rationing’ their medication.
Our correspondent, who visited some drug stores in Lagos, gathered that a sachet of unbranded Ampicillin capsules, which cost N200 a few months ago, depending on the location, now sells for N600 or more.
At the Medpoint Pharmacy in Surulere on Monday, the pharmacist on duty confirmed that the prices of antibiotics and other classes of drugs used to treat major infectious diseases had gone up.
She lamented that the increment was also affecting sales as many customers, who could no longer afford to purchase drugs at the current prices, had stopped coming.
She said, “We used to sell some pain relief drugs for N50 per sachet. Now a sachet costs between N150 and N200, depending on the brand. Ciprotab use to go for N650. Now it sells for N1,500. Also, branded antibiotics, which used to be sold for N3,500, now costs N4,800.
“We have stopped stocking some drugs because people get angry when we try to explain to them that the increment is from the wholesalers, not us.”
A pharmacist, Mrs. Adenike Ibrahim, who runs a drug store in the Ajara area of Badagry, complained to our correspondent that many of her colleagues could not stock their outlets due to the 150 per cent increment in the prices of drugs.
Ibrahim said, “The prices of some hypertensive drugs, used to lower blood pressure, were between N500 and N3,500 some months ago. Now the price are as high as N8,000. If you want to go for the known brands, it could be as high as N10,000.
“I know many hypertensive patients who told me that they would ration their drugs because they could not buy another batch. Those who used to go for the cheaper brands have stopped buying because they can no longer afford the prices.
“Do you know that I could stock this pharmacy with just N500, 000 in the past? Nowadays I need about N2m to do that. So I don’t bother to buy the big brands because most of my customers cannot pay for them.”
Ibrahim also expressed concern over the persistent hike in the prices of multivitamins and other supplements given to children and accused the wholesalers of taking advantage of the scarcity of foreign exchange to increase the prices of the drugs.
She said,“Everybody knows that the value of the naira has dropped and it costs more to import drugs. Some classes of drugs, especially those for children, have gone up and this is a huge challenge because parents will now look for dangerous alternatives.
“The demand for paediatric (children’s) drugs is high. So the increment in their prices should not be too much. The situation is bad enough and the importers should not make it worse.”
In the course of the investigation, our correspondent found that only the prices of anti-malaria drugs, provided under the Global Fund Scheme at a subsidised rate, have remained stable in some outlets that still have them.
The Chairman, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Okey Akpa, who had earlier warned Nigerians to prepare for a possible scarcity of drugs in the country, noted that to bring down the prices, the scarcity of forex must first be tackled.
Akpa said, “There is a drought of raw materials for the production of drugs because we can’t access foreign exchange from the banks.We have been using our previous stock since this development, but it will run out soon. What this means is that essential medicines will be scarce and when they are available, they will be unaffordable.”
Another pharmacist and the chairman of the Oyo State chapter of PSN, Adeyinka Isola, said that despite the fact that the association had met with the Federal Government over the high cost of importing drugs, it had yet to receive a response.
He said, “We plead with the FG to lower the exchange rate for these importers in order to provide succour for those who are sick, especially in this time of recession. Many of these drugs are out of stock already and importers are finding it difficult to bring them to Nigeria. The health care of our teeming populace is very important.”
Meanwhile, stakeholders in the sector, including the Chief Medical Director of the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Prof. Temitope Alonge, said drugs would be available for the sick at lower prices if Nigeria approached the World Health Organisation for permission to produce vaccines and tablets.
Alonge said, “Because of the shortage of opioid in India, the country got permission from the World Health Organisation to produce the tablet under its watch and restriction. Because of this, tablets are cheaper in the country because they are produced in the country.
“Why can’t we have a company or two in Nigeria licensed to manufacture (drugs that are imported to Nigeria) under the watchful eyes of WHO and monitoring agencies in order to ensure that particular tablets are produced for local use only and at cheap prices?
“We are always at the receiving end of bad government policies. Insecticide- treated mosquito nets are manufactured elsewhere and brought to Nigeria. This is not a good practice for a country as big as Nigeria. The companies that manufacture these items come to Nigeria and donate them to us. The truth is that they are paid by WHO or UNICEF to do so.”