The high cost of medical drugs is forcing Nigerians to seek cheaper variants of drugs as prices surge, a development that poses a threat to their health and well-being, health experts say.
According to a BusinessDay survey of some pharmaceutical stores across Lagos, the prices of basic drugs such Leonart, a malaria drug has increased by 25 percent in four months to N2, 500 per pack in October 2023 from N2,000 in June, Amartem also used in treating malaria jumped by 39 percent to N2, 500 per pack from N1,800 within same period.
This has forced Nigerians who can’t afford to buy a pack of cheaper variants such as Lokmal, Chloroquine and Artemether among others that sells for less than a N1,000 to treat their malaria.
Some Nigerians, even visit local chemists stores to buy a combination for as low as N1,000 to treat their malaria, BusinessDay finds.
“There’s a huge jump in the prices of drugs especially for foreign drugs and even locally produced drugs are not left out, making people seek for either cheap ones or not get themselves treated,” said Adanna Obiakor, a Lagos based pharmacist.
“Healthcare which was supposed to be a staple product is now a luxury which is really sad as people pretend not to be sick. Normally, for a woman, once you are 40, you should be on iron supplements, but a lot of them can’t afford it now due to the high cost of living,” she said.
“Even malaria drugs that are really basic for a tropical area are now unaffordable.”
According to her, pharmacy business is also affected when it comes to restocking because an amount that would normally buy five items is now buying just two.
Prosper Arubaleze, another pharmacist also added that the constant increase in the prices of drugs and medical supplies make people seek out cheaper but not so safe alternatives.
“People are no longer able to afford most food items, and the consequences of this can be health related issues such as malnutrition and lack of necessary vitamins we get from food,” Arubaleze added.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s inflation rate rose by 27.3 percent in October 2023, a new 18-year high.
Tolu Raine, a financial analyst, complained that she used to buy ventolin inhalers for her asthma attacks for N2,000 in January but is now sold for N8,000.
“I fear that the price will continue to go higher, I can afford it, but my concern is low income earners who already have to deal with surging food prices now have to deal with surging medication prices.”
Nigeria has a very high dependency on imported drugs as 70 percent are brought in from abroad, chiefly China and India. Additionally, the country relies on imported active pharmaceutical ingredients as well as equipment used in drug manufacturing, according to experts.
In 2020, Nigeria imported medicinal and pharmaceutical products worth $417.5million, higher than most African countries except Egypt ($678.3million) and South Africa ($637.8million), data from to CEIC, a global data firm show.
It is now common for people to choose between which sickness is more important to treat over the other because they can only afford treating one, says Obiakor.
She cited that a patient that’s diagnosed with malaria and typhoid will only get drugs for the malaria and leave the typhoid unattended too because they can’t afford both drugs.