When last did you go to the pharmacist or chemist store? Anyone, who has been to the drug store recently will realise that many drugs are inevitably priced so high that they have become unaffordable for the average Nigerian. At the Clinton Pharmacy in Adeba, Ibeju-Lekki, the pharmacist on duty confirmed that the prices of antibiotics and other classes of drugs used to treat major infectious diseases had gone up. He lamented that the increment was also affecting sales as many customers, who could no longer afford to purchase drugs at the current prices had stopped coming.
Already, many Nigerians are currently going through pain and hardship as the country’s economy is still trying to recover from the recession. The high cost of drugs certainly has added to this hardship. It is worrisome that many Nigerians who cannot afford the high cost of drugs have resorted to patronising herbal medicine practitioners or quacks in order to manage their health.
Part of the reasons attributed to the high cost of drugs in the country is the introduction of new import tax on medical products by the Government. It would be recalled that earlier this year the Federal Government through the Ministry of Finance directed the introduction of 20 per cent adjustment tax on imported medicament in the pharmaceutical sector. This means that for every imported drug and allied products, a minimum duty of 20 per cent would be made payable to the treasury through the Nigeria Customs Service. Unfortunately, this development major stakeholders say, has not only led to an astronomical rise in the prices of essential drugs, but it has also led to a deluge of fake drugs across the country.
It is worthy of note that the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and the Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria (APIN) called on the federal government to rescind the decision. The argument of these stakeholders is that in 2013, Nigeria had agreed to abide by the recommendation of an ECOWAS committee that drug importation within the African sub-region should attract a zero per cent duty. However, recent reports reveal that there is no going back on the implementation of the policy by the government. The Government has reiterated that the new import Adjustment tax was necessitated by the need to ramp up revenue generation and support local drug manufacturing.
The question some stakeholders have asked is that if 70 per cent of medicament consumed in Nigeria is imported and the country currently has less than 300 drugs manufacturing companies of which less than 5 percent are WHO certified, why put a heavy duty on drug importation?
Commenting on how best Nigeria can tackle the increasing high cost of drugs, Dr. Nkere Ebube, President Nigerian Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas, (NAPPSA) said in a chat with PharmaTimes, “Nigeria needs to invest in the growth of the pharmaceutical sector; specifically promote generic drug manufacturing that meets international standards. Incentives should be given to indigenous pharmaceutical companies to manufacture high quality and affordable medicines.
The national drug policy and essential drug list is obsolete and should be updated to reflect inherent prevalent disease states, and advances in new therapeutic armaments. The government must encourage growth of private-public partnership, provide infrastructure, regulations, and invest in research and development of APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) and raw materials to support the growth of the pharmaceutical sector. This would create jobs, drive innovation and produce high quality and affordable medicines”.
Importantly, in the absence of infrastructure or basic support systems, what can pharmaceutical companies or manufacturers do? We are all aware that Nigeria is yet to industrialise for various reasons bordering on infrastructure. Most companies in the country run their business operations on generators 24 hours a day. Aside lack of regular power supply to industries, there exist poor road networks, and inadequate or lack of funding from banks and other financial institutions for manufacturing purposes, coupled with incessant policy “somersaults” on the part of the government. These and many others are disincentives to investors in the sector.
In the same context, those manufacturing drug companies which produce thousands, if not millions of drugs on a daily basis, will opt to recoup some of the expenses (i.e. money put into powering their factories). So, at the end of the day, the health products are bound to be expensive. This also must be addressed.
Again, the pharmaceutical companies under the aegis of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and other bodies have solicited government intervention to develop the petrochemical industry in Nigeria to trigger an impactful industrial revolution that is increasingly less import dependent. By so doing, it will absorb the shocks of foreign exchange volatility while fulfilling its task of providing needed pharmaceutical products for the teeming masses. Indeed, the Dangote Refinery project located at the Lekki-Epe free Trade Zone announced that the petrochemical segment will be a core part of its focus. This initiative is quite commendable. The petrochemical industry will help to provide not only for the pharmaceutical industry but other industrial sub-sectors key manufacturing ingredients, many of which are currently imported.