Only 3% Nigerians covered with health insurance as poor patients lament on rising drug prices


LAGOS, Dec 14 – Sodiq Ajibade, a 29-year-old asthma sufferer in Lagos, was forced to leave a pharmacy without a vital medication due to the skyrocketing prices of drugs in Nigeria. Over the past few months, the cost of certain medicines has surged nearly tenfold, compelling patients like Ajibade to either reduce their dosage or seek alternative, traditional remedies. This alarming trend is attributed to the sharp depreciation of the naira following the removal of currency controls in June, causing pharmaceutical costs to soar.

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British pharmaceutical giant GSK (GSK.L) exacerbates the situation by transitioning from GSK-controlled local operations to a third-party direct distribution model. However, GSK denies any contribution to the prevailing issues. Ajibade, expressing his struggle, mentioned, “I used to buy three prescribed medicines, but now I have reduced to two – penicillin and aminophylline.”

With only 3% of Nigerians covered by health insurance, patients must bear the financial burden of purchasing medications themselves. Both Nigeria’s health ministry and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control remained unresponsive to requests for comments.

GSK attributes its challenges to foreign currency shortages, affecting the consistent supply of medicines and vaccines, leading to stockouts. A GSK spokesperson clarified, “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.”

Cyril Usifoh, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, highlighted the heavy reliance on imports for drugs and pharmaceutical ingredients, further complicating the situation. The naira’s devaluation has led to significant price hikes across various medications, including a GSK-manufactured Seretide asthma inhaler, which surged from 8,000 naira ($9.42) in April to 70,000 naira.

Concerns deepen as critical medications for conditions such as cancer, hypertension, and diabetes witness astronomical price increases, leaving many patients unable to afford their complete prescriptions. Faced with exorbitant costs, individuals like 43-year-old Kano farmer Ubaidullah Nuhu Yusuf are turning to traditional remedies, such as boiling guava and pawpaw leaves, as a cost-effective alternative to combat illnesses like malaria and typhoid.

Gbenga Samson
Gbenga Samson
Samson Gbenga Salau [Editorial Board Adviser] Gbenga Samuel Salau is a professional journalist with over 17 years experience in journalism, he is a graduate of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan. On completion of his youth service, he joined The Guardian as a freelance journalist and was later absorbed as a staff. While in the University, he was a campus journalist reporting for the Independence Hall and Faculty of Arts Press Clubs. As a campus journalist, he won the following awards; Independence Hall Press Best News writer; University of Ibadan Union of Campus Journalists’ Best News Reporter/Writer; First Runner-up, Reuben Abati Award for Investigative Journalism; Association of Faculty of Arts Students’ Press Best Reporter; University of Ibadan Union of Campus Journalists’ Best Political Writer; Winner, Reuben Abati Award for Investigative Journalism, and University of Ibadan Union of Campus Journalists’ Best Interviewer. He served the Association of Communication and Language Arts Students, as the Public Relation Officer, the same year he was appointed the News Editor of the Association of Faculty of Arts Students Press. The following session, he was made the General Editor, and a member of the 13-man University of Ibadan Students’ Union Transition Committee. As a reporter in The Guardian, in 2014, he won the Promasidor Quill Award Best Report on Nutrition and DAME Business Reporting category. In the 2015 edition of the Promasidor Quill Award, he won the best Report on Nutrition and Brand Advocate Categories, while in 2016, he won the NMMA Print Journalist of the Year, first runner-up Golden Pen Reporter of the Year and SERAs CSR Awards. Gbenga Salau loves traveling, reading, and listening to songs with good lyrics no matter the genre.

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