Nigerians struggle with skyrocketing drug prices

When Sodiq Ajibade emerged from a Lagos pharmacy holding asthma medication, one drug on his prescription was missing because he did not have the money to buy it.

Sodiq Ajibade, 29, who suffers from bouts of asthma attacks, displays pills of his medication in his home in Lagos, Nigeria December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

The price of some medicines has risen almost tenfold in Nigeria in the past few months, forcing patients like Ajibade to cut his dose or turn to traditional alternatives.

Pharmaceutical industry officials said the plunge in the value of the naira after the removal of currency controls in June has sent prices of new stocks rocketing.

British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is stopping local manufacturing in Nigeria to adopt a third-party direct distribution model, which some industry officials said was also adding to woes.

“I used to buy three medicines prescribed to me but now I have reduced to two, that is penicillin and aminophylline,” said Ajibade.

Research firm Statista says only 3% of Nigerians have health insurance, meaning patients must find the money themselves to buy medication.

Nigeria’s health ministry and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control did not respond to requests for comment.

A GSK spokesperson said foreign currency shortages had affected GSK’s ability to maintain consistent supply of medicines and vaccines in the market, leading to stockouts.

“The price increases we are seeing in Nigeria are not as a result of the decision to change the business model, and we regret that market forces outside our control have impacted the price of remaining stock in the market,” the spokesperson said.

Cyril Usifoh, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria said most drugs were imported while local makers relied on imports for the pharmaceutical ingredients to produce medicines.

The naira has lost half its value since June, raising prices of everything from pain killers to drugs for chronic disease.

A Seretide asthma inhaler manufactured by GSK, for example, cost up to 8,000 naira ($9.42) in April but now retails for up to 70,000 naira. Antibiotics like augmentin cost as much as 25,000 naira, up from 4,500 naira in July.

“I am particularly worried about things like cancer drugs, anti-hypertensive drugs, diabetic drugs. The price has been astronomical,” said Usifoh.

“If you have two, three drugs on your prescription you may find that you don’t have enough money to buy all of them.”

Faced with such high costs, 43-year-old Kano farmer Ubaidullah Nuhu Yusuf said he was resorting to traditional cures.

“By boiling guava and pawpaw leaves… and inhaling the steam, this has proven effective to curing malaria and typhoid since affording an injection and buying the drugs is a problem,” he said.


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