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COVID-19: Pharmacists lament increase in drug prices

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Dayo Ojerinde

Pharmacists have lamented the impact of COVID-19 on the pharmaceutical industry, saying the hike in drug prices was an effect of the pandemic.

The pharmacists in a separate interview with our correspondent said 65 per cent of pharmaceutical raw materials and finished products being used in the country were imported from China and India.

The National Chairman, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Samuel Adekola, said the instability in the foreign exchange market had affected the prices of drugs.

“The increase in the prices of drugs in the country is not farfetched, we are responding to the national and international economy. Over 70 per cent of what we use in producing drugs are imported from China, India and Europe. The drug market in Nigeria depends solely on foreign exchange, based on this there is bound to be an increment in the prices of drugs in the country.

“The pandemic has affected the economy globally, unfortunately, our economy is based on imports, and that is why we are badly affected. For instance, India, our major supplier of pharmaceutical supplies have been battling the second and third wave of the pandemic which has seriously affected their economy.

“At a time, there were drugs that you won’t see in the Nigerian market, particularly those from Europe. The prices of some of these medicines went from N350 to N1,500, and that is if you can find them. This is the direct effect of COVID-19,” Adekola said.

The chairman, Pharmaceutical Wholesalers and Distributors Association of Nigeria, Pharm. Ernest Okafor said the hike in prices of drugs may affect the delivery of quality health care to the people if the government fails to intervene.

“It is obvious that the pandemic has resulted in a lot of imports being dropped. Importation has been reduced and supply chain management has been disrupted all over the world because of the pandemic. That could be the reason for the increase in the prices of drugs in the country.

“If the government does not step in as quickly as possible, the situation may go out of hands. The government must realise that drug security is as important as food security. When you are ill, you have no choice, so, the government must take seriously the issue of drug security. If they have to create a channel for drug import, then they need to step in. According to the UN, Nigerians live on less than $2 a day and that is less than N1000. If someone does not have N1000 to feed, there is no guarantee that he will be able to afford drugs and that will lead to an ultimate reduction in life expectancy,” Okafor said.

A pharmacist, Jonah Okotie, said, “Aside from inflation and COVID-19, the lockdowns and restrictions placed on the export of some very essential pharmaceuticals products by India and China led to a big deficit in the supply of these products. Moreover, we do not have the capabilities and capacity to produce active pharmaceutical ingredients in Nigeria. Secondly, our drug distribution system is not only chaotic but defective. Hence, the distribution ends up in the hands of businessmen, who care only about profit, and not professionals.”

“Furthermore, our poor electricity supply does not support some techniques and processes required in the production line to manufacture of these essential products.”

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