Drugs are becoming scarce and more expensive. Prices of drugs started going up in Nigeria in 2015 when the recession set in. The prices soared further in 2016 and the trend has continued in this year 2017. Yet, the Nigerian government recently destroyed a consignment of fake, adulterated and counterfeit drugs estimated to be about N9.31 billion at the destruction site of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The drugs, reportedly seized by officials of NAFDAC, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigeria Police Force and other enforcement agencies, was said to be the largest to be destroyed in Nigeria in the last 30 years. As confirmed by Professor Isaac Adewole, minister of health, who led other stakeholders to supervise the exercise, most of the drugs destroyed were routine medications in constant demand by Nigerians.
The fact that our security and drug regulatory agencies are able to mop-up such a huge quantity of unwholesome drugs and destroy them, saving millions of Nigerians from health hazards and untimely death, should ordinarily be hailed and commended. However, the more fundamental questions are: How did we end up having such a humongous quantity of fake drugs in the nation? Are the fake dugs merchants getting the better of our security and drug regulatory agencies and bringing in fake drugs? Why do we have quite a lot of fake ‘routine medication in constant demand’ to destroy at a time these medicines are becoming scarce and expensive?
These questions are fundamental because the general assumption is that this nation has fought drug fakers to a standstill and reduced their capacity to carry out their nefarious trade. It will thus be a big worry for many Nigerians to know that these charlatans are staging a comeback especially at a time prices of drugs are going up.
It is also imperative to ponder on what could fuel a resurgence of fake drugs business in this clime. Prof. Adewole tried to answer this query while speaking at the destruction site in Port Harcourt when he said that a gap existed in the nation’s drug supply system and was denying the people access to essential drugs.
The fact is that the gap in drug supply system to Nigerians has been exacerbated by the present economic recession. Both the local pharmaceutical manufacturers and importers of pharmaceuticals have been having it tough since last year when the economy nosedived into recession.
Local manufacturers have been finding it difficult to import needed raw materials for production because of the high exchange rate, while drug importers have also been having it tough as they need dollars to import drugs for Nigerians. Considering the fact that over 70 per cent of drugs used by Nigerians are imported, it is not surprising that the prices of drugs have continued to soar over the past months and the situation may not change in coming months because the exchange rate is still unfavourable.
The prices of virtually all routine medication purchased by Nigerians regularly have been increased by over 100 per cent in the past couple of months. Some drugs prices have even increased by over 200 per cent, while some drugs have disappeared completely from the shelves.
To have this kind of inflation in the prices of drugs at a time most Nigerians are finding it difficult financially is a clear recipe for a boom in patronage of unwholesome drugs as many people will be resorting to cheaper alternatives. This is a tough time for Nigerians, especially those who have to take medication every day because of certain health conditions.
It is therefore not enough to be expending so much energy through the drug regulatory agencies to clamp down on fake drugs; this nation must find ways to enhance Nigerians access to quality medicines. As long as drugs are not sold at affordable prices to average Nigerians, there will always be a market for substandard drugs.
The Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria (APIN) recently once again raised alarm on further scarcity and increase in the price of medicaments as a result of a return of 20 per cent import duty on imported pharmaceuticals as published in a recent government circular tagged ‘Import Adjustment Tax.’
The Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN) has also for years been agitating for government intervention through policies to boost their operation and by extension local drug manufacturing.
Thus, the Nigerian government must look into its policies as it affects drugs availability because drugs are as important as water and food to human beings. Government policies on drugs while protecting local drug manufacturing industries must not unwittingly make access to affordable medicines for Nigerians difficult.
It is only when quality drugs are available to Nigerians at affordable prices that we can discourage patronage of fake drugs and forcing of Nigerians to the use of spurious alternative medicines that worsen rather than ameliorate the health conditions they are treating.