Price of inhalers surge 450% on worsening FX scarcity

Many Nigerians suffering from asthma and other bronchial diseases are facing difficult times as the prices of inhalers – a portable device for administering drugs that is to be breathed in, have surged by 450 percent, BusinessDay’s finding shows.

“I bought five inhalers in January for N1,400 each, I tried restocking last week and bought at N8,500. I couldn’t buy more than one as I used to as the price exceeded my usual five,” Victoria Ikpe, a cloud associate at a Lagos-based tech company said.

A market survey by BusinessDay showed that in January Ventolin inhaler was sold between N1,200-N1,500 but it now sold for an average of N7,000-N9,000.

Abiodun Sobayo, an electrical engineer has resorted to using a cheaper variant of inhaler owing to the recent surge in the prices, which according to him, is less effective.

“My daughter told me a Ventolin inhaler costs N7,000 now. I just advised her to take a Ventolin tablet a day like I do,” he said.

According to him, the ventolin tablets require longer time to become effective, unlike the inhaler which works faster.

Ademola Balogun a trader at Ketu Market said the situation is very challenging for asthmatic patients who are struggling to survive the current economic realities.

“My business patronage is declining and is struggling to feed my children daily. I still need to cough out N8,000 every three weeks for an inhaler,” she said.

“How do I survive this,” she asked, saying she barely fed properly owing to the difficult economic situation in the country.

She urged the federal government to come to the rescue of poor Nigerians who have non-communicable diseases such as asthma by subsidizing their medications.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Nigeria, a top manufacturer and major supplier of Ventolin inhalers and some other major drugs in the country had said that the worsening shortage of foreign exchange in the country is hurting its ability to maintain a consistent supply of drugs.

Omongiade Ehighebolo the director of communication and government affairs at GSK Consumer Nigeria Plc, in May said foreign exchange unavailability has continued to impact its operations like every other manufacturing company in the country.

“The challenge in accessing currency is affecting our ability to maintain a consistent supply of medicines and vaccines in the market,” he said.

The process of foreign exchange (FX) unification has led to the depreciation of the official exchange rate, prompting price adjustments to align with the prevailing exchange rates.

Naira exchanged at N520 to a dollar on the black market in January and skyrocketed to N870 to a dollar as a result of dollar scarcity owing to the recent devaluation of the naira.

Muda Yusuf, chief executive officer of Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, said over the last few years, there had been a cumulative backlog of unmet foreign exchange demand, running into billions of dollars as a result of acute illiquidity in the foreign exchange market.

“With a more liberalized forex market, the pressure of the backlog of unmet demands and other maturing forex-related obligations have been unleashed on the investor’s and exporter’s window.”

Adanna Obiakor, a Lagos-based pharmacist said that FX- scarcity is affecting the importation of Ventolin inhalers and Augmentin.

“Gsk as a company is having issues importing those two drugs, So we barely have enough in the country. The dollar is the cause of the importation problem; the government is refusing to let them continue buying dollars at the official rate. I honestly don’t know if it’s a political power play or the government is just flat-out being inconsiderate,” she said.

Augmentin, another popular drug, is a prescription antibiotic used to treat many different infections caused by bacteria, such as pneumonia, ear infections, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, and infections of the skin.

It was previously sold for N9000 earlier this year but has risen in price to N14,000, finding shows.

With the new reforms, fuel prices across the country surged by an average of 174.6 percent from their then price a month ago. Asthmatic Nigerians still processing the impact of the removal of fuel subsidies will now have to deal with an additional increase in the prices of essential drugs.

According to Remedial Health, a provider of patient medical records solutions, the rising inflation rate has seen antimalarial drugs such as Artemether and Lumefantrine more than double in price from an average of N1,200 to over N2,700 per pack.

Nigeria has a very high dependency on imported drugs as 70 percent are brought in from abroad, chiefly China and India. Additionally, the country relies on imported active pharmaceutical ingredients as well as equipment used in drug manufacturing, according to experts.

In 2020, Nigeria imported medicinal and pharmaceutical products worth $ 417.5 million, higher than most African countries except Egypt ($ 678.3 million) and South Africa ($ 637.8 million), data from CEIC, global data firm shows.

Source: @businessday

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