Patients battling chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney and liver diseases, as well as other common conditions like tuberculosis and fevers, have lamented the astronomical hike in the prices of medications.
According to them, the prices of most of the routine medications needed to manage their health have increased by over 200 per cent.
Most of the patients are elderly and retired, and mostly depend on their pensions, which are most times too meagre to attend to their daily needs.
A 74-year-old retired teacher in River State, Mrs Ngowari Ben, who said she was battling hypertension, rheumatism and diabetes, stated that she was greeted with shock when she visited a pharmacy to get her medical supplies and was told that the money she had was not enough.
“I used to get a tablet of hypertension medication for between N800 and N900 and the one for diabetes for around the same amount. Now, they are sold for as much as N3,000 per tablet. How am I supposed to purchase the medications from just my pension? This is unfair. Even the pharmacists cannot explain what is happening,” she said.
Another pensioner, Mrs Amaka Chieze, who is based in Imo State and battling diabetes and hypertension, said since she retired from the state Ministry of Education in 2017, she had not been paid any pension.
“I rely solely on my children and on what I get from good Samaritans. I may die soon if nothing is done to help people like me who are managing some chronic ailments,” she said.
Chieze, who clocked 71 in May, said she used to get a pack of one of her routine medications for around N7,000 earlier in the year, but it increased to around N24,000 in September.
“I didn’t even buy any. I quietly just went back home and took some herbs, but they haven’t done much to help me and I don’t want to die,” she added.
Recently, in Osun State, about 20 pensioners suffered exhaustion and had to be quickly attended to by paramedical personnel during the verification of pensioners in the state.
Several other states have had pensioners take to the streets and plead with the government to pay up their pension stipends after serving meritoriously.
In Ekiti, for instance, a pensioner, who simply wished to be identified as Mrs Ayo, said her pension could not cover her medical needs, as she was battling hypertension and a severe case of thrombus.
“I have left everything to God because I am sure I will not be able to afford the medications, as they are now too expensive,” the 73-year-old told our correspondent.
Another patient in Ogun State, Mr Kolade Ogun, said he had yet to get full treatment for his ear infection and surgery for colon issues.
He said, “The cost of medicine is just too much. The doctor told me in 2022 that it would cost between N100,000 and N120,000 for my ear surgery, but now he is saying even with N220,000, he might not be able to get everything fixed, especially as it needs a lot of after-care.”
A mother of two, who works as a teacher in a private school in Lagos, Angela Thankgod, said she had not been able to buy the routine medications for her mother, who is battling diabetes.
Thankgod lamented, “She (mother) has called me twice this week already, but where will I get the money for her medications from? We used to get a tablet of her meds for N800 last year or so. Earlier this year, we got it for around N1,700. Now, it is more than N2,500, and most of the medications are not even available.
“We have advised her to manage herself with some herbal mixtures and other traditional medicinal wellness products till we are able to raise the money. It is a terrible situation.”
In Osun, an 80-year pensioner, Mr Adebayo Akangbe, from the Boripe Local Government Area of the state and battling hypertension, diabetes and sight issues, said he spent between N30,000 and N40,000 on medications monthly.
Akande said he earned a monthly pension of N52,000, adding that after buying his medications, he would be left with a small amount to spend on other needs.
Asking for an upward review of monthly pensions to enable retirees to take care of their health without having to depend on other people for assistance, Akangbe added that many pensioners were usually left without anything to feed after buying their routine medications.
Also speaking on how he has been coping with the cost of medication to manage his diabetes and sight problems, a retired head teacher living in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, identified simply as Adegoke, said his monthly pension could not cover the cost of his medications.
He said his children had taken it upon themselves to buy the medicines and other supplements for him.
PSN, NMA blame forex crisis
Reacting to the hike in the prices of, a past president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Olumide Akintayo, said the wretched exchange rate and the removal of petrol subsidy, among others, were responsible.
I an interview with one of our correspondents on Saturday, Akintayo said, “Unfortunately, the recklessness with which these medications continue to move up will not just affect the economy, but will increase the mortality rate in Nigeria.
“There may be no anti-malaria drug that will be sold for between N1,200 and N1,500 in any pharmacy in the days ahead. I have seen the dynamics in terms of the pricing index.
“As of Friday, the exchange rate was N1,020 to $1. Whether it is healthcare, information technology, or engineering, they all have some form of business acumen. As long as we don’t have any strategic interventions on the path of the government, the cost of these drugs will be reflective of the realities.
“This year, I can confirm to you that a popular GSK brand of Mentone tablets was sold for between N9,000 and N10,000 in the first quarter of this year. It is now between N35,000 and N40,000 as of today (Saturday).
“It is the same drug with the same packaging and the same ingredients. That is an astronomical increase of up to 300 per cent. These are realities of what the foreign exchange has done in contemporary times.”
Akintayo noted that the nation had a National Drug Policy that stated that drugs should be accessible and affordable at all times, adding that this was not being followed.
He added, “That drug policy of 2005 looked at a situation where 70 per cent of the routine drugs should be manufactured in Nigeria, while 30 per cent would be imported. Unfortunately, as of now, the reverse is the case.
“That is the beginning of the problem. Clearly, over 70 per cent of our essential medicines are being imported, leaving less than 30 per cent to be manufactured locally.”
On solutions, the pharmacist said President Bola Tinubu must be proactive and drive investments in the sector, address the forex problem and appoint a special adviser on pharmaceuticals.
He stated, “For a long-term solution, the government needs to be proactive. President Bola Tinubu, I must say, is generating some momentum in some other sections of the economy. I see a few things that have happened in Immigration, labour and other areas.
“I cannot say the same for the health sector. The appointments of President Tinubu in the health sector have been a disaster thus far. He is on record as the only President in this democracy who has appointed two physicians as health ministers. He went further to appoint a special adviser on health, who is also a physician.
“How can he get it right when it is only the input of one profession? I am aware that the PSN has sent documents to the government on how to develop the pharmaceutical sector, which can help the government grow the real sector and the country’s Gross Domestic Product by three to five per cent.
“The President needs to appoint an adviser on pharmaceuticals. The problem of drug distribution in Nigeria is not something a physician only can drive.”
A former President of the Nigeria Medical Association, Dr Francis Faduyile, said, “The prices of drugs have skyrocketed and it is really unfortunate that many of our people, who are hitherto having difficulties in purchasing drugs needed, are further impoverished.
“We don’t have a viable manufacturing pharmaceutical company in Nigeria, so most drugs depend mostly on foreign exchange because they are imported. The dollar, which has gone beyond N1,000, has made the drugs unaffordable to the people and has impacted the healthcare sector negatively in that the cost of treatment has increased and the quality of life of the people has reduced.”
Health providers speak
An officer of Total HealthTrust Limited in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Mr Abel Tamuno, said health maintenance organisations were struggling to cope with the cost of treatment of their enrollees.
“This is not the best period for HMOs at all. With the current problems in the country and the hike in the cost of treatment, it will be difficult for most HMOs to keep up. Although the THTL has not defaulted, the government should make things easy for us by stabilising the economy and sorting out the forex crisis,” he said.
A senior client officer with AXA Mansard HMO, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said, “HMOs are charged with the responsibility of managing the provision of standard health care services via a network of hospitals under the plan. They serve as a middleman between the hospital and clients seeking healthcare services.
“In this current economy, this has been difficult for us just as it is for other businesses, but we will not waver on our promises.
“HMOs’ health insurance plans are supposed to help the enrollees to save money on their medical bills. This is why HMO plans are affordable and give one access to quality health care services.”
The source asked people battling various chronic illnesses to get certified HMOs to help them weather the storm.
Pensioners’ union speaks
A retired nurse, who is the Secretary, Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Osun State chapter, Mr Dele Aina, said the cost of purchasing drugs for retirees varied, adding that for many, it could be quite expensive and outside of what their monthly pensions could cover.
Aina stated, “Before they know the kind of drugs they will use, they will have to go for medical checkups. There are different treatments for different ailments. There are some that need psychological treatment, while some require drugs.
“There are some categories of pensioners that only need exercise, while some have psychiatric problems and need to be referred to hospital. It is not everyone who must be placed on medications or be operated upon. Depression is a form of madness and that requires psychosocial treatment. It doesn’t need much medication.
“The medical personnel just need to find out the person’s medical history and counsel him appropriately and if he requires minor treatment, they will do that. For those with ailments synonymous with old age, it can be very expensive to deal with going by the amounts they earn as pensions.
“For instance, hypertension can result from diabetes, and to maintain that, a lot of money may be needed that many pensioners may not be able to afford on their own.”
A pensioner, Mr Olusina Soyemi, stated that he had been finding it hard to cope with the rise in the prices of food and medicines.
He stated that he could no longer afford to buy his medications due to price increment.
“For us retirees, everything is extremely difficult. We plead with our government to have mercy on us and help us during this time so that things can be easy for us,” Soyemi stated.
On his part, the Lagos State Chairman of the National Union of Pensioners-Contributory Pension Scheme, Michael Omisande, stated that pensioners could no longer cope with the rising prices of food and medications, adding that the situation had led to an increase in the number of dead pensioners.
He lamented, “Pensioners are not coping at all. Many of them are dying at this period and many are drying up; we are suffering. Only a few who have employed children are exempted from this, some others have children who are unemployed. This is a serious case and most people are crying at this time. We are not coping at all because the situation is now terrible. We are hungry and suffering.”
Omisande pleaded with the government to immediately pay the backlog of pensions and declare a state of emergency in pension matters all over the country.
“We need palliatives. They claimed that they allocated palliatives as welfare packages for the Contributory Pension Scheme retirees but we have never benefited from such. Nothing is working at the moment,” he added.
The National Chairman, Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Contributory Pension Scheme Sector, Sylva Nwaiwu, described the situation as a double jeopardy.
He decried the increasing rate of pensioners dying from preventable illnesses and poverty.
Nwaiwu added, “Nigerian pensioners over the years have been abandoned by the government of the country they used their youthful days to build and serve. They are endangered species in Nigerian society today. A country that pegs the minimum wage at N30,000 for active workers and pays as low as N3,000 as pension!
“This is the main reason corruption is deeply rooted in the civil and public services in Nigeria, as workers must try by all means to loot the public treasury while in service, for tomorrow they will become pensioners and forgotten by the government. You cannot imagine the number of pensioners who die daily in this country from preventable illnesses as a result of abject poverty.”
He called for the declaration of a state of emergency in the pension scheme of all government employees across all levels, calling for a minimum pension “ceiling that is commensurate with the minimum wage in all the three tiers of government, enrolls all pensioners on the National Health Insurance Scheme, and ensure that it covers service and retirement years.”