…hypertension, malaria, diabetes drugs rise by over 100%

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

A major health crisis is looming in the country as millions of sick Nigerians are daily losing the financial muscle to purchase drugs to treat their various ailments, BusinessHallmark findings can reveal. According to findings, owing to the ever-rising cost of drugs brought about by the consequences of Coronavirus pandemic, many Nigerians could no longer afford the cost of their drugs, forcing medical experts to predict more deaths and outbreak of preventable diseases.

Our Correspondent who visited several pharmacies and drug stores in Lagos observed that the prices of several drugs have gone up from their pre-coronavirus price tags by between 100 to 200percent, forcing many patients who could not afford them to go home disappointed or look for alternatives. Mostly affected by inflation are prescription drugs for malaria, hypertensive and diabetic drugs. Others include anti-viral and bacterial drugs as well as disinfectants.

Even, prices of anti-malaria drugs, provided under the Bill Gates Foundation-led Global Fund Scheme at a subsidised rate, have soared in several outlets that still have them.  At the Shekinah Pharmacy at Jonathan Coker Road, Fagba, our Correspondent purchased a packet of a popular anti-malaria drug, Camosunate, at the rate of N1,600, up from N650 it was purchased in February 2020. This represents N950 difference in price and 150 per cent rise.

Our Correspondent was left with no option but to buy only one pack instead of the intended three at the store. Visits to several pharmacies proved the same as some even sell at higher prices. However, a radical shift happened at the Merit Pharmacy at Abule Egba, when the same brand of Camosunate was sold for N750.

Baffled by the huge difference in price, BH enquired from a female pharmacist in charge the reason for the disparity. She confirmed that the stock they sold was purchased in December 2019, just before the outbreak of Covid-19.

“We are running out of old stocks, but we are expecting another batch by the middle of the month, and you know the implication. The prices of drugs will not be the same owing to the cost of haulage and forex. My boss is a ‘real’ Christian; that is why we are currently selling at pre-Covid19 rate. We know the prices others are selling, but the proprietor won’t allow us to increase our prices”, she declared.

Coartem- Double strength (80/480) is N1,700 while the single strength Coartem (20/120) is N600. Anti-malaria drug, Lonart: double strength (80/480) is N1,800 instead of between N900 and N1200. Coartem- Double strength (80/480) is N1,900 naira while the single strength coartem (20/120) is N800 from N550. It was also discovered that anti-hypertensive drugs have gone up.

Co-dovan, an antihypertensive drug, which used to be sold for N11,000 per pack now goes for N19,000 per pack.  Price of Normoretic is N2,000 per pack and Moduretic N2,500 per pack, as against N1700 and N2000 respectively.

On the other hand, a sachet of Nomoretic now sells for between N250 and N300, instead of the N150 rate it sold in March. The same goes for Lozartan. Before the outbreak, it was sold for between N1800 and N2000 per pack, depending on the outlet. It is now cost between N3500 and N4500. An octogenarian sighted at Boluke Pharmacy in Agege, Lagos, Pa. Rufus Oguntade said he now depends on his children for survival as his pension is no longer enough to buy his drugs.

“Before, I could buy all my blood pressure medications for the month with just N5,500. But now, I spend N18,000. Yet, I still have to buy drugs for other ailments”, said Pa Oguntade.

The prices of other drugs have also gone up. Hovid brand of Prednisolone, a drug used to treat lung or inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and asthma, recorded about 100percentage increase in price. On Thursday, June 4, it sold for between N250 and N400 per sachet, instead of N150 in April. Likewise, Ventolin inhaler for asthma patients is from N1,700, while Seretide inhaler is N5,550.

Also affected by the high spike in the prices of drugs are diabetic patients. According to the Diabetes Association of Nigeria (DAN), an estimated 15.3 million Nigerians are living with diabetes.  BH findings revealed that the cost of insulin, meant to treat diabetic patients has drastically gone up. For example, Humulin is N3,250 per ampoule; Mustard is N4,500 per ampoule, while Actrapid is N3,000 per ampoule.

Further checks revealed that a pack of Insupen brand Sterile Insulin (8 Needles) and PiC Insumed Sterile Pain-free Insulin (8needles) with Syringe that sold for N5,250 and N2,200 respectively in February now go for N10,350 and N5,135. As each pack contains only eight needles, a patient who needs to take 30 daily injections will need 4 packs to complete a monthly dosage.

According to a 60- year-old diabetic patient resident in Ogba, Gboyega Olutola, the prices of drugs on his prescription list have gone up from N25,000 to N39,800 due to the instability in prices.

“I am considering dropping insulin for Glibenchride or other drugs as I can no longer afford it”, Olutola, a civil servant lamented.

A pharmacist with a retail outlet in Ikeja, Pharm. Emenike Orji complained that the rising cost of drugs may force many drug stores out of business.

“We are recording loses every day as drugs are now left on the shelves unsold. Nigerians are going for cheaper brands or local herbs because prices of drugs are rising daily. The expensive brands are now scarce, and where you get them, they are very expensive because importers could no longer get enough foreign exchange to bring them in anymore.

“As things stand now, we no longer stock major and expensive brands as they gather dust on our shelves and at the same time tie down our funds”, Orji said.

Further checks revealed that the prices of antibiotics have gone up. For example, a pack of Augmentin goes for between N3,600 and N5,000 depending on the brand, milligram and the number of capsules in the pack or sachet, while unbranded Augmentin is N1,700. In the same vein, Zinnat 500mg price is N4,500 and N5000.

While a sachet of unbranded Ampicillin capsules, which cost N200 a few months ago, depending on the location, now sells for N800 or more, Azithromycin- Zithromax suspension 1g by Pfizer is from N4,950, Zithromax suspension for children is N4,000, Zithromax tablets 250mg is N3950, Zithromax 500mg tablet is N4,800 and unbranded azithromycin 500mg is N2,600 per sachet.

A lifesaving antibiotic used for the treatment of complicated infections, meropenem, now sells for N27,000 per unit injection as against N18,600. Also, the price of pain-relieving drugs has gone up astronomically. A case is Ciprotab which used to go for N1450, now sells for N1,900; Ibuprofen (Nurofen) 200mg N1560 per sachet, branded ibuprofen 400mg is N2,250 for a pack containing 12 tablets and unbranded Ibuprofen is N500.

Ketamine injection, an anaesthetic agent used for surgical operations which were less than N2,000, is now being sold for N10,000. Owing to the spike in the prices of drugs, poor Nigerians are dropping off their medication, resorting to ‘Agbo’ (local herbs), with health experts warning of serious complications and even death.

A pharmacist who spoke to the BH on the matter blamed the hike on several factors, including shortage/high cost of foreign exchange, the shutdown of global borders which negatively affected the movements of goods and services, as well as the rising cost of production.

“Before the outbreak (Covid19), we were a dollar for between N358 and N365. On Wednesday, we were able to buy at the rate of N429 after a long period of searching and negotiations.

“We got a good bargain as the cost is higher in the open market. On Thursday, it was N440. We have not even talked of haulage and local transposition. Unless the Federal Government intervenes, the situation could get out of hand”, declared the pharmacist who did not want his identity revealed.

He said the situation could go from bad to worse before the end of the year as manufacturers and importers of drugs fear that a majority of them may shut down their manufacturing plants as they have no raw materials to produce owing to movement restrictions.