• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

Drug prices face increased pressure as imports surge 68%

Drug prices are facing increased pressure due to a surge in imports, with the value of medicines imported into Nigeria rising by 68 per cent to N81.8 billion between July and September 2023, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

About N48.74 billion worth of drugs was imported in the same quarter of 2022. The increase also marks a 27 percent rise from the N64.38 billion recorded in Q2 2023.

India is Nigeria’s top import trading partner for drugs, followed by the United States, China, France, and Germany.

Further analysis indicate N33.68 billion drugs were imported from India, N15.3 billion from the US, and N9.98 billion from China. Drug import from France was N2.72 billion and from Germany N2.41 billion.

While medication imports in Q3 2023 accounted for 0.97 percent of total imports, representing a slight decrease from 1.12 percent in the previous quarter, it still managed to edge out the 0.97 percent recorded in Q3 of the previous year.

As the naira continues to lose value and foreign exchange becomes scarce, the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry has struggled to keep essential medicines affordable for the public. With import costs soaring by over 40 percent since June, the industry faces a critical challenge in ensuring access to healthcare for all.

Read also Rising drug prices squeeze health insurers’ margins

For instance, Nigerians with diabetes face increasing difficulty with access to drugs due to soaring prices, hindering their ability to manage their blood sugar levels and effectively control the disease.

The high cost of insulin and other diabetes medications has placed a significant financial strain on individuals and families already struggling with the economic burden of diabetes.

Abiola Oduwole, a professor of Paediatric Endocrinology at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, said a lot of patients are declining visits to the hospital because they cannot afford prescription medicines.

She said the challenge, coupled with the poor knowledge about disease management, is robbing many people of the chance of avoiding severe comorbidities that arise from complications.

“The major thing now is access to drugs. It has become so expensive that a lot of our patients are not using their drugs and the moment you are not using your drugs, the chances that you will have complications is extremely high,” Oduwole told BusinessDay.

High foreign exchange rates, import tariffs, and fuel costs have led to some pharmaceutical companies exiting the country, making essential medications unaffordable for many Nigerians. The high cost of importing goods has also forced importers to cut back on their inventories and even abandon containers at the port.

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 in the country.

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.

Outpacing all other drugs, Ampiclox, an antibiotic produced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) soared by a staggering 1,390 percent in cost price between 2019 and 2023, according to a report released by SBM Intelligence on Tuesday.

The research and data analytics firm revealed that the selling price of 500-milligram capsules also skyrocketed at a slightly slower rate of 1,100 percent, making Ampiclox the antibiotic with the most dramatic price increase in recent years.

A pack of 500-milligram Amoxil capsules, a similar product from the same manufacturer, 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.

Isaac Oni, a pharamacist said “Almost all drugs are breaking their all-time highs and setting new ones for both wholesale and retail prices in Nigeria, and it occurs daily. The economy is bad and the cost of living is high. As much as possible, stay healthy!” in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Ifunanya Grace, a veterinarian, reacting to the surge in cost said “Your cost of treatment may skyrocket if you are resistant to cheaper and readily available drugs. With GSK leaving Nigeria, the prices of drugs are higher than high men now.”