Against the backdrop of high cost of essential medicines, occasioned by the current economic meltdown in Nigeria, there is the urgent need for authorities in the health sector to seek ways of reducing the effects of this development on the populace.
Recent reports indicate that the cost of medicines had tripled in the last few months to the extent that their procurement is currently beyond the reach of the common man.
For instance, it had been reported that essential drugs for the treatment of pains, malaria, and typhoid fever among numerous other ailments had risen to 300 per cent while drugs for treatment and management of diabetes, hypertension, cancer and HIV/AIDS rose to between 500 and 600 per cent, and no, there seems to be no end in sight.
We view the development as a serious one with far reaching consequences. If the situation continues, there is the likelihood that it could bolster the courage of counterfeiters to flood drug markets with fake and substandard medicines thereby putting the lives of many Nigerians at risk.
There is also a possibility of quacks and charlatans seizing the moment to defraud desperate members of the public who may indiscriminately seek solutions to nagging health issues tormenting their lives.
Similarly, unscrupulous promoters of herbal medicines could turn the rising cost of drugs into an advantage by producing all kinds of concoctions in the name of herbal medications for treatment of common ailments and by so doing put the lives of millions of Nigerians in harm’s way. Clearly the implications of rising cost of drugs in the country are enormous.
And for a country that is lagging dangerously behind – going by World Health Organisation’s reckoning in the efforts of nations of the world to seek ways of addressing the challenges of numerous disease burdens afflicting humanity, this latest development may place Nigeria as an unserious country.
And since the authorities in the management of the Nigerian economy appear helpless in dealing with the foreign exchange challenge facing the country currently, the situation may last longer than expected but the populace must be protected from the harsh consequences of the economic situation in the country. After all, the wealth of a nation as it’s popularly said, is measured by the health of its citizenry.
Therefore, in other to avert a possible epidemic of avoidable deaths in the country and also return the cost of medicines to tolerable levels, the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Health should urgently confront the challenge head-on.
One important decision that must be taken in this regard in other to ameliorate the suffering of the masses of this country is an initiation of a policy by authorities in the Federal Ministry of Health mandating physicians to commence without delay prescription of medicines with their generic names as against their brand names.
This policy has worked in so many countries around the world and the benefits far outweigh whatever reservations any contrary view may have. With the prevailing economic hardship in the country and its attendant toll on the living standards of the greatest majority of Nigerians, we consider it an imperative option to check the spike in drug costs.
Generic medicines according to experts have the same quality, efficacy and safety profiles like their brand counterparts. They are, nevertheless, much cheaper in price. Thus, while providing the same therapeutic outcomes, generic medicines offer a great opportunity in savings estimated between 20-70 per cent cheaper than brand medicines.
Apart from cost saving benefits a policy of mandatory prescription of medicines with generic name also affords operators of pharmacies and drugstores the opportunity of dispensing a wider range of alternative preparations rather than limiting to one which may not be stocked.
Countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand among numerous others who have implemented a policy of promoting generic prescriptions in their healthcare sectors are already reaping staggering savings from the policy. For instance, generic medicines reportedly saved the United States healthcare system about $1Trillion between 2002 and 2011.
There is no better time to take the health of the greatest majority of the citizenry more seriously than now.