The prices of antibiotics have skyrocketed to unprecedented levels, leaving patients reeling as major drugmakers abandon the production of these essential medications in Nigeria.
Between 2019 and 2023, a pack of 500-milligram Ampiclox capsules recorded the highest jump, with the cost price increasing by 1,390 percent and the selling price increasing by 1,100 percent, shows a new report released by SBM Intelligence, a research consulting and data analytics firm.
A pack of 500-milligram Amoxil capsules grew the fastest among all the medicines analysed, with the selling price jumping by 456 percent between 2022 and 2023.
Antibiotics are medicines used to treat bacterial infections. A 2017 research by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) also found that up to 71 percent of children under five are administered antibiotics without prescription, and 42 percent of adults misuse antibiotics – a practice that has resulted in Africa’s emergence as the continent with the highest burden of antimicrobial-resistant infections.
In August 2023, GlaxoSmithKline, a British multinational pharmaceutical company that manufactures these drugs, ceased its operations in Nigeria, ending a 51-year-old history of doing business there.
Also in November, Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical multinational announced plans to exit and adopted a third-party distribution model to continue product supply in Nigeria.
“This may be due to the continued demand for antibiotics, which led the manufacturers to use this as leverage and pass on increased production costs to the consumers,” the report states.
On a year-on-year basis, the cost price of Ampiclox recorded the highest rate of increase between 2022 and 2023, jumping by 346 percentage points.
The price of Levoxin, a brand of antibiotics produced by Evans, remained constant at its 2022 levels following a 36 percent increase in cost price between 2021 and 2022.
An analysis of the data also showed that the cost price grew at a faster pace than the selling price – a common theme that occurred in the other medicine categories.
“This also means that manufacturers increased their prices, and the retailers could not raise prices at the same rate to avoid losing customers,” SBM Intelligence stated.
“A situation where this occurs means that the retailers’ profit margins dropped over the years; an important factor when considering the ease of doing business in Nigeria.”
Antimalarial drugs saw the slowest price increases in the period under review.
The 2022-2023 period recorded the biggest price increases, a testament to the changing economic climate.
Among all the medications considered, only one (Novalgin) in the painkiller category has maintained its 2022 price in 2023, following a 25 percent increase in price in 2022.
Citing Boladele Silva, a pharmaceutical professor at the University of Lagos, the report stated that Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry is highly exposed to shocks from foreign exchange volatility.
“In Nigeria, what we have are packaging hubs. The active pharmaceutical ingredients and most excipients used by the manufacturers are imported. That makes them very vulnerable to economic shocks,” he said, explaining the hike in the prices of medicines.
Some painkillers are sold over the counter in Nigerian pharmacies, making this category of drugs a good source of cash flow for manufacturers as people in both urban and rural areas use painkillers to contend with the effects of stressful activities.
Of all the brands considered in the painkiller category, Emzor is the only local manufacturer.
Their Paracetamol brand also accounted for the highest rate of cost and selling price increase, growing by over 450 percent and 250 percent, respectively, since 2019.
This may be due to the strong brand presence that Paracetamol has built as a painkiller amongst the populace, thereby giving the manufacturer room to transfer rising production costs to the end user.
Like the other categories, the cost price of medicines in this category grew faster than the selling price.
However, Brustan-N, produced by Sun Ranbaxy, an Indian manufacturer, was the only exception, as the selling price grew faster than the cost price in 2023.
The cost price increase rate was the slowest among all the medicine categories. No doubt, there is a possibility that the high demand for these medicines made up for the slow rate of increase.
On a year-on-year basis, the cost and selling prices of Novalgin remained constant – the outlier in the category.
This follows a 25 percent increase in its cost price in 2022 and a 15 percent increase in the selling price within the same period.
Athrotec recorded the highest jump in cost and selling prices from its 2022 prices, with Brustan-N recording the slowest increase.
The trend of the cost price growing faster than the selling price was also observed in some of the medicines represented in this category – a testament to the increased cost of production in the Nigerian environment.
Looking at the cost and selling price of the medications in this category shows that Actifed had the highest cost and selling prices from 2019 to 2023.
This could be due to many reasons, including the brand’s goodwill built over the years and the foreign factor of the company’s production process, making it vulnerable to foreign exchange volatility.
A comparison of the prices in 2019 and 2023 showed that Mixagrip recorded the highest increases in both the cost and selling price.
On a year-on-year basis, the cost price of Procold and Mixagrip recorded the highest increase; rising by 90 percent. Fluj recorded the slowest rate of increase at 17.65 percent.
Medicines in this category recorded the second highest rate of increase since 2019 after the antibiotics category.