The worsening shortage of foreign exchange in Nigeria is hurting its ability to maintain a consistent supply of drugs.
According to new data from the International Trade Centre, a multilateral agency, the importation of pharmaceutical products into Nigeria dropped for the second straight time to $1.05 billion in 2022, a 23.4 percent decline from $1.37 billion in 2021.
It also declined by 63.0 percent from $2.84 billion in 2020. Pharmaceutical exports reduced by 65.0 percent to $779 million last year.
“The industry is facing a tremendous challenge in terms of accessing foreign exchange as over the years, access to it has reduced imports, especially for raw materials,” Sam Ohuabunwa, the immediate past president of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, said.
He said the decline in pharmaceutical imports is not because local production has become significant as nothing much has happened in that area.
“The devaluation of the naira led to a depression in the demand for drugs. And with high inflation and devaluation, it becomes difficult for businesses in the pharmaceutical industry to recover the price and when they try to recover it, their products become unaffordable,” Ohuabunwa said.
According to Gabriel Idahosa, deputy president of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), everything in the pharmaceutical industry is imported from raw materials to the packaging.
“The healthcare industry is in a very difficult situation now. The healthcare security of Nigerians is at jeopardy because the drugs for treating common illnesses such as malaria and cough are getting expensive by the day,” 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.
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.
“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 either cheap ones or not get treated,” said Adanna Obiakor, a Lagos-based pharmacist.
She said healthcare is now a luxury. “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.”
Earlier this month, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Nigeria, a top manufacturer and major supplier of Ventolin inhalers and some other major drugs in the country, announced plans to exit the country after 51 years of operations.
Data from GSK’s financial statements show that its revenue dropped to N7.75 billion in the first half of the year from N14.81 billion in the same period of last year. The company’s profit also dipped to N339.7 million from N349.4 million.
Morison Industries saw its loss narrow to N44.6 million from N45.5 million. Its revenue fell to N56.3 million from M86.9 million.
Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals’ revenue declined to N957.4 million from N1.63 billion. The company reported a loss of N452.6 million in 2022, compared to a profit of N175.5 million in the previous year.
Fidson Healthcare’s profit rose marginally to N2.77 billion from N2.70 billion, while revenue increased to N25.6 billion from N20.4 billion.
Capacity utilisation in the industry is below 50 percent, according to industry players, who complain that lack of a reliable petrochemical industry in the country means most raw materials are imported.
“Nigerian manufacturers suffer from poor infrastructure and low patronage, which make them uncompetitive in both local and global markets,” they said.
In 2021, the Nigerian government launched the third edition of the National Drug Policy. The policy seeks to strengthen the health system and the delivery of medicines, vaccines and other health technologies and supplies.
One of the targets of the policy is to achieve a 70 percent increase in local production capacity and utilisation of essential medicines by December 31, 2025.
“You can’t talk about improving access to quality drugs without thinking local. The government must prioritise the local manufacturing pharmaceutical sector to achieve what we conceptualise as medicines’ security,” said Frank Muonemeh, executive secretary of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN).
According to PMG-MAN, medicines’ security is a concept that argues that unless people exert sufficient control over how their medicines and healthcare commodities are produced, sustainable access to relevant, affordable, high-quality products cannot be guaranteed in that setting.
“Our environment is not conducive to spur local production. And anything that has to do with public health, the government has a lot of role to play in it because it is not a free market or market driven,” Muonemeh said.
He added that the greatest challenge in the industry is political will and that the government needs to see medicines’ security as an act of defence, diplomacy and development. “Until you see it from those angles, then you can improve or increase local manufacturing.”
Idahosa of LCCI said the pharmaceutical industry is just a part of the manufacturing sector. “They are just another set of manufacturers who are affected by the challenges facing other manufacturers in the country, and whatever will improve the manufacturing sector will also improve the pharmaceutical one.”