Nigerians are facing a crisis of life and death. Recently, a Twitter user made a post on how the exit of global pharmaceutical giant, GSK, from Nigeria has led to the scarcity of Ventolin® in pharmacies and drug stores, thus putting patients at risk of not finding life-saving drugs to purchase. For many Nigerians, the currently dire economic situation has not only impacted their finances and affected their standard of living, but it has also made the cost of basic necessities and services skyrocket out of their reach. One such necessity is prescription drugs.
Ventolin inhaler, which used to sell for N2,800 now costs N8,000. Ampliclox, a common antibiotic, has gone from N1,000 to N13,000, while Augmentin has shot up from N4,500 to N25,000.
The unbelievably high cost of medicines in Nigeria has become an emergency. People are partly unable to afford drugs because pharmaceutical companies are shutting down and exiting Nigeria due to the almost crippling economy. According to another Twitter user who uses “Seretide Diskus Inhaler,” the former retail price of ten thousand naira (as of a few months ago) has now become sixty-seven thousand naira. Whilst it is a poignant example that serves to illustrate the status quo, it is simply unconscionable for the cost of a life-saving medication to increase by more than fifty percent.
Nigeria is grappling with a multifaceted crisis that extends far beyond economic instability. The effect has been domino-like. The exit of any company from the Nigerian market is largely a manifestation of economic rot. In the examples above, the scarcity of essential medications has placed the health of countless Nigerians at risk, thus paving way for broader repercussions of a crumbling economy that has rendered basic necessities, including life-saving drugs, out of reach for many. There is no gainsaying that an ill person cannot be economically productive. So, what lies ahead then?
As pharmaceutical companies shut down or exit the country, the vacuum created allows opportunistic forces, especially retail pharmacies, to hoard available quantities and exploit helpless citizens who are faced with a poor healthcare sector, an uncaring government, and greedy pharmacy owners. Let’s be clear on one thing, though. The high cost of medicine is not just a problem for asthma patients. It is also affecting people with other chronic illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes. These patients rely on daily medication to survive, but the high cost of drugs is making it increasingly difficult for them to afford the treatment they need.
The high cost of medicine is not just a financial burden, it also has a devastating impact on one’s physical and mental health. People who cannot afford their medication are often forced to go without and risk further complications. From personal experience, the stress and anxiety of not being able to afford medication can take a toll on mental health.
The Nigerian government must take decisive action to stabilize the economy. It has a moral responsibility to address the high cost of medicine, especially for the poor and vulnerable. Beyond making the business climate conducive for investors and entrepreneurs, it must also regulate the pharmaceutical industry more effectively, so that companies do not overcharge for medication. There should also be public health programs that provide free or low-cost medication to those who cannot afford it.
There is also the matter of health subsidies. Government subsidies targeted at essential medications can provide temporary relief to those in dire need. However, this will require a strategic reallocation of resources to ensure that the most critical and commonly used medicines remain accessible to all.
Lastly, encouraging investments in the local pharmaceutical industry can boost domestic research and drug production, thereby reducing dependence on multinational corporations (Big Pharma). Local innovators must be incentivized to fast-track research and development towards the creation of affordable alternatives.