The rising prices of drugs have forced some Nigerians to seek cheaper alternatives such as herbs and natural drugs to treat their illnesses.
A BusinessDay survey of some pharmaceutical stores across Lagos showed that the price of a Ventolin inhaler, used to treat asthma symptoms, ranged from N6,000 to N9,000, up from N1,200-N1,500 in January this year, while that of a 625g Augmentin – used for treating bacterial infections – has risen to N9,000-N10,000 from N5,000-N6,000.
The price of a sachet of Paracetamol has increased to N300-N200 from N150-N100 while that of Lonart DS 80mg/480mg, a malaria drug, jumped to N2,400-N2,600 from N1,200-N1,500.
Remedial Health, a provider of patient medical records solutions, said the rising inflation rate has seen antimalarial drugs such as Artemether and Lumefantrine more than double in price from an average of N1,200 to N2,700 per pack.
“I can’t afford to buy malaria drugs again. I just rely on ‘agbo’ [a Yoruba word for herbal drinks] now, which I prepare myself. I have lemon grass at the back of my house. I only need to buy pineapple and lime to boil with it, which usually costs me around N1,000,” Ronke Ademola, a Lagos-based stylist, said.
She added that her parents treated malaria with ‘agbo’ and it worked effectively. “At times, I take malaria medications because of convenience and time, yet I will still have a fever until I take ‘agbo’.”
Itohan Oseghale, a Lagos-based banker, said his income has not increased, and he cannot afford to buy an inhaler, which he uses for at least two weeks, depending on the frequency of his attacks.
“I have resorted to taking herbs and eating lots of glove spices because it helps clear the respiratory tract. I didn’t know the efficacy of gloves in the respiratory tract until the recent jump in inhaler prices that forced me to seek alternatives,” he said.
Africa’s most populous nation relies heavily on imported drugs, active pharmaceutical ingredients and equipment used in drug manufacturing from China, India, Malaysia and Netherlands.
Pharma West Africa, a major pharmaceutical exhibition in Africa, said that over 70 percent of medicines in Nigeria are imported; with medicines accounting for a chunk of the country’s total healthcare spend of $10 billion.
“Out-of-pocket expenditure can be as high as 62 percent of total healthcare expenditure, mainly due to limited access to health insurance,” it said on its website.
Two economic recessions in the last seven years have weakened Nigeria’s foreign inflows, resulting in a liquidity challenge in the country’s FX market.
Last year, the naira depreciated against the dollar, dropping to as low as 448/$1 from 157/$1 in 2012 at the official market. It depreciated to 740/$1 from N159/$1 at the parallel market.
The naira devaluation in June led to a further increase in the cost of dollars from N463.38 to N770.72 at the official market on Tuesday while it rose to N900 at the parallel market.
This has pushed up the country’s headline inflation rate to the highest in nearly 18 years at 24.08 percent in July from 22.79 percent in June, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The World Bank said in July that inflation pushed an estimated four million more Nigerians into poverty in the first five months of this year.
Data from the International Trade Centre, a multilateral agency, show that the importation of pharmaceutical products into Nigeria dropped for the second straight time to $1.05 billion in 2022 from $1.37 billion in 2021.
“The high cost of FX has limited the quantities that are needed on a normal day. For my company, it has reduced the quantity to half of what we would import on a normal day,” Tunde Akintoye, a pharmacist at Alpha Pharmacy, said.
He said the low supply in the pharmaceutical system is making people shift to alternatives like herbs and other natural drugs. “High cost of forex and import levies has made imports stiffer; and for every importation, they bill us like crazy.”
Herbs are a group of plants, excluding vegetables and other plants, consumed for macronutrients, with savoury or aromatic properties. Usually widespread, the plants are used for flavouring and garnishing food, for medicinal purposes, or for fragrances valued for its medicinal, savoury, or aromatic qualities.
Common examples of herbs are basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, mint, cilantro, chives, dill, bay leaves, and fennel, ginger and turnip.
“There is a growing migration to herbal medicine, and beyond that, people are also doing a lot of self-health management,” said Sam Ohuabunwa, immediate past president of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria. “I see a lot of people going into personal health management programmes and more natural methods of managing illnesses, which are becoming more rampant.”
According to Ohuabunwa, because of the country’s economic realities, a lot more people rely more on what is locally available and what is more affordable, with prayers that God will get them healed.
“Before the white man came with his drugs, the African or Nigerian had their own way of dealing with health issues but education and colonisation moved us away from that,” he said.
BusinessDay reported three years ago that during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people were consuming herbs such as turmeric and ginger as part of their daily diets to boost their immunity against the virus.
As a result, herb production gained traction in the country as many farmers were shifting to the cultivation of ginger, turmeric, and lemongrass, among others, to meet up with the current increasing demand for the crops.
“Globally, people are now consuming more ginger and other herbs due to the pandemic to boost their immune system,” said Florence Edwards, national president of the Ginger Growers, Processors and Marketers Association. “As a result, Nigeria is seeing a surge in demand for its ginger currently since we have the spiciest variety globally.”
Experts say that turmeric and ginger suppress various inflammatory molecules that are responsible for the causes of harmful viruses owing to its anti-inflammatory component called curcumin.
A 2019 study by Shengying An and Guanzhong Liu at the College of Animal Science & Technology, Hebei Agricultural University, Baoding China, found that ginger extracts have antioxidant ability and a great immune booster.