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Averting Possible Rise in Drug Costs

submission and urge authorities in government not to ignore it because the consequences of sudden rise in the prices of medicines could be disastrous to public health. The main challenge of our country over the years has been the inability to ensure that our citizens, especially the rural dwellers, have access to basic primary health care. And should there be high cost of essential drugs in the country the lives of many poor Nigerians would be greatly endangered.

We therefore urge President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the relevant authorities to put all pharmaceutical manufacturing products under VAT exemption list so that enough drugs and medicament could be made available for citizens who need them at affordable prices. Going by provisions of section 17 of our Constitution,
the government is obliged to improve the welfare of Nigerian citizens by ensuring that they have access to adequate medical and health facilities.

For a government that has consistently promised Nigerians access to primary health care services, increase in VAT without consideration to its effects on pharmaceutical products cannot be the right way to go. As things stand, the most effective way of ensuring that quality health care services are effectively delivered to majority of Nigerians is by allowing the public to have access to essential drugs at minimum cost. Without that, preventable diseases will continue to kill many in Nigeria. By allowing the public unfettered access to essential drugs at affordable prices, some of the billions of naira squandered in medical tourism every year will be saved.

To the extent that health is wealth, most countries have built their economies around healthcare delivery systems. Unfortunately, while members of the Nigeria ruling elite are ever quick to travel abroad for the best medical treatment even for common ailments that can be treated at home, there is little or no consideration for the greater majority who depend on the neglected healthcare delivery system at home. That is the only way to explain the consequence of the newly introduced VAT on essential drugs. While we are not opposed to the revenue generation drive of the current administration, the increase in VAT policy is unhelpful because of
its implications to the health of our people.

The country has been running a struggling economy with an inflation that is bouncing all over the place and a real significant decrease is nowhere in sight. The unsteadiness of inflation in the country is constantly being felt in price fluctuations and millions of Nigerians of which majority are poor, bear the brunt of its repercussions. Nigerians pay more for their medications and so many are rationing or out rightly skipping essential medications because there is no functional insurance scheme to take care of out of pockets expenses on drugs as is the case in the country presently. There is also the urgent need for government to incentivise local production of pharmaceutical products in order to guarantee access to affordable medications by millions of Nigerians.

Price hikes in commodities are regular occurrence in the country without exemptions. The cost of essential drugs is more often predicated on exchange rate since the country relies to the tune of 70 per cent of its medicine needs on imports. The imminence of escalating cost of medicines could be better appreciated when
China, a global giant in the export of pharmaceutical raw materials currently hit by a deadly Corona virus is brought under focus. India, it must be understood, depends on China to a large extent in the supply of pharmaceutical raw materials. Both countries are the immediate choices of Nigeria’s
pharmaceutical raw material and finished products import.

Therefore, the effect of closure of factories in China occasioned by the outbreak of the deadly virus could vicariously manifest in the rise of cost of medicines in the country. Nothing could typify the failure of healthcare in Nigeria like essential drugs and that explains why the Federal Government needs to have a second look at the recently introduced 7.5 % Value Added Tax with a view to putting all pharmaceutical manufacturing products under VAT exemption list.

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