Devaluation of Nigerian currency has led to rise in price of drugs that are imported into the country:Photo/Reuters

By Abdulwasiu Hassan

Musa Yusuf, a fashion designer in Nigeria, is looking to buy a teething syrup for his eight-month-old daughter, only to learn that the price of the brand he is looking for is now beyond his reach — up from N7,000 (US $7) to N15,000 ($15).

"I have decided to go for a traditional herb to alleviate my child's teething pain," he tells TRT Afrika.

Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) recently warned people against taking unapproved herbs as an alternative to prescription and common over-the-counter drugs, but enforcement remains a challenge.

Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, director general of the agency, said vigilance personnel would continue to raid places where such herbs are sold.

Yusuf believes the herb he has picked for his daughter is NAFDAC-approved, although he isn't sure about it.

People are having to choose between buying drugs and paying for some other necessities due to rise in price of drugs in the country:Photo/Reuters

And what about its safety? "I can say that to some extent, it is safe. This is a herb we saw our parents using," says the father of three.

Currency impact

Prices of drugs in Nigeria have spiraled in recent months mainly because the naira, the country's currency, has lost a large portion of its value corresponding to the US dollar.

The naira, whose dollar conversion rate was 463 until recently, is now around 1000 to a dollar.

Analysts believe this is responsible for the increase in the prices of drugs across a country that either imports its requirements or manufactures drugs with imported active ingredients.

"Since we depend on imports, we are badly affected by the currency depreciation. Most drugs are not manufactured in Nigeria," Ahmad Danjuma, a pharmacist, tells TRT Afrika.

"In the past few months, the prices of drugs have soared across the board. If you bought a particular medicine for N1,000 in January, that possibly costs more than double now in any retail pharmacy, due to the twin impact of inflation and the currency plummeting relative to the dollar."

Nigerian rely on importation of drugs:Photo/Reuters

Yusuf Hassan Wada, who runs a pharmacy, warns that the situation could be out of hand. In their desperation to find cheaper alternatives to prescription drugs, some people might be purchasing fake medicines.

"A drug that cost around N4,000 for a pack earlier this year, today goes for between N20,000 and as much as N25,000 in some retail pharmacies," Wada tells TRT Afrika.

"This huge disparity is causing many to fall victim to adulterated or fake drugs, which are high in circulation."

Consumers aren't the only ones feeling the negative impact of inflation in the industry.

"The sharp increase in prices of drugs is posing a significant challenge to the pharmaceutical sector. Many companies and retailers have either shut shop or are scaling down business," says Wada.

"Lower sales and increase in costs have also led to layoffs, less innovation in the health value chain and disrupted supply."

The way out

Just as the Nigerian government had declared a state of emergency following a spike in food inflation, experts believe the country needs a radical approach to insulate ordinary Nigerians like Yusuf from the negative effects of prohibitively high drug prices.

The money Nigerians are paying out of their pockets for healthcare has already pushed many people into poverty, according to the country representative of the World Health Organisation in Nigeria, Walter Kazadi Molumbo.

"The continued spike in non-communicable and communicable diseases, coupled with increased health expenditure, is a potent combination. More Nigerians are now falling into poverty due to ill health than at any time in recent memory," Molumbo said at a recent event.

Only a small percentage of Nigeria’s 200 million-odd population is covered by the county’s emerging health insurance scheme. Experts believe more people need to be covered by the health insurance policy so that they don't have to bear the additional burden of inflation and currency fluctuations.

"This requires the country to build and implement sustainable insurance coverage that fully integrates social protection systems and community-based social care, prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable," says Wada.

Others believe there is a need for the government to aid pharmaceutical companies so that they can produce cheaper medicines, benefiting them and consumers.

"This can be premised on giving a bailout to the pharmaceutical sector and investment in the local pharmaceutical value chain, all of which will reduce the strain on the dollar and boost economic growth," says Wada.

Until such a sustainable solution is found, consumers like Yusuf and their families will be forced to look beyond conventional medicine at risk to their health.

TRT Afrika