•Our members dying —Pensioners •Diabetics demand subsidy on imported drugs
With the nation’s worsening foreign exchange crisis, prices of life-saving drugs have skyrocketed in recent days, investigations have revealed.
Indeed, essential multinational drugs have mostly vanished from the stores.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), in a communiqué released by its National President, Ahmed I. Yakasai and the National Secretary, Gbolagade Iyiola, after its recent National Council meeting in Kano, warned of the dangers of scarcity of life-saving drugs in the country as a result of the forex crisis.
It was discovered that hypertensive and diabetic patients are most hit by the development in the health sector with reports of daily casualties.
The National President of Diabetes Association of Nigeria, Dr Mohammed Alkali, on Friday confirmed the situation and called for subsidy for imported diabetes drugs.
Alkali, who spoke to Saturday Tribune over the phone, said that the hike in the price of diabetes drugs due to the dollar-naira exchange rate has become “unbearable” for patients, who depend on the drugs for sustenance.
Affirming that most of the drugs used by diabetic patients are sourced from other countries, he urged the Federal Government to consider introducing palliative measures in order to ameliorate the effects on patients, including the local production of pharmaceutical drugs.
He said, “Most of the diabetes drugs are imported. The current foreign exchange situation in the country has affected almost all the drugs. This is one of the reasons we are pushing that local production should be considered because as long as the drugs are going to be imported, the price of these drugs will continue to go up and the effects on diabetic patients will be unbearable.
“The association will continue to advocate lower profit on imported drugs so that patients can buy them. But there is a limit to which these prices can go down especially due to the forex situation. Our constraint now is sustaining the minimum price of the drugs.
“There is no official subsidy on diabetes drugs. We are advocating that the government to consider subsidizing diabetes drugs and encourage local production of drugs”.
The association had also, a few days ago, disclosed that a disturbing 1.56 million new cases of diabetes were discovered in 2015 while about five million people live with the disease. Diabetics use daily doses of special drugs which are imported.
According to a pharmacist, Mr. Adewole Atanda, the reason behind the high cost of the drugs and injections taken by the sufferers of these diseases to lessen their hazards, is that most of the drugs like the diabinese tablets among others, are not produced here in Nigeria because the materials needed to manufacture them are not locally available. The drugs, according to him, are only imported into Nigeria from other countries, hence, making them very expensive and scarce to come by.
A doctor, who did not want his name in print said that people were dying like chickens in the hospitals as the prices of drugs have doubled in the last few months.
Checks with medical practitioners indicate that prices of essential drugs are not only getting out of hand, most of the drugs are not available on the shelves.
It was gathered that most multinational drug companies are finding it difficult to import drugs into the country as a result of the forex policy of the administration, while the persistent drop in the value of the Naira is also constituting another crisis.
There are twin issues, said a doctor, who did not want to be mentioned. He stated that his discussions with major drug companies in the last one week had confirmed that the companies were finding it difficult to import essential drugs.
He said that the companies have been bombarded with various orders for the drugs but it has been difficult to import drugs for treatment of hypertension, heart diseases and acute gastro-intestinal issues.
Checks in the markets indicated that such drugs have had their prices doubled in the last three weeks.
A doctor told Saturday Tribune: “The situation is taking a huge toll on the health situation in the country. The prices of most referral drugs that are effective have skyrocketed in the last few months. The increase in the price of petrol is not matched by increase in salary and that is taking huge toll on those of us in the health sector.
“Many of the patients will come into the clinic and only secure hospital cards and after the necessary tests, they would say they have no other money for drugs and that the only money they had had been used to secure hospital card.”
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Mr. Oyekunle Wahab, a retired teacher who suffers from diabetes, said that ever since the doctor diagnosed him with diabetes, 50 percent of his monthly pension is always spent on his medications
“Out of the N30,000 I receive monthly as my pension, I spend over N15,000 on buying strips for my blood sugar test and the insulin injection to regulate the level of sugar in my blood. But of late, government has been paying our pension once in three months and this has stopped me from checking the level of sugar in my blood because my strips have been exhausted and to buy another one now, I will need N3,000. Just last week, I was feeling dizzy and I knew it was because of the Insulin injection I stopped taking, so, I hurried off to the hospital and complained to my doctor who later injected me for free,” he said.
Similarly, Salami Abimbola, an Ibadan boy in his early 20’s who suffers from migraine, expressed his parents’ frustration on his drug (sudrex tablet) worth N100 per card and which gets exhausted two days.
“My parents say they are tired of buying the drug every day, therefore, I go through pains whenever my dad doesn’t have enough money to buy it,” he said.
Speaking on the risks of not using these drugs as prescribed, a medical expert, Dr. Oyewale Durojaiye says that if a patient who suffers from one of these diseases, e.g. hypertension, fails to take the proper dosage of his drugs, it may result in hypertensive retinopathy which damages the retinal and in most cases, it can lead to cerebrovascular disease, mostly known as stroke.
The PSN, in its communique, said it, “after a careful evaluation of the impact of the current paucity of Forex in the country which is gradually grinding operations in drug manufacturing and importation outlets to a halt in the days ahead, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently intervene to prevent an impending national calamity which will lead to morbidity and outright mortality of consumers of health in Nigeria.”
It warned that warehouses of pharmaceutical companies were becoming empty due to inaccessibility of Forex to directly buy drugs, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and other products, a situation it said, would breed out-of-stock syndrome in the inventory of life saving drugs with dire consequences “in the days and weeks ahead” as most drug companies were exhausting their leftover stocks from last year.
The Council argued further that pharmaceutical products bought at the rate of $1 to N400 would not be affordable thus defeating the goal of the National Drug Policy which advocates the availability of safe, efficacious and affordable drugs in the health system at all times.
“Flowing from the above, council called on the Federal Government to facilitate better access to Forex to pharmaceutical companies as a matter of priority in view of the security dimensions of the out of stock syndrome which has a propensity to boost the fake drug syndrome as charlatans will certainly exploit the vacuum created by a lack of basic drugs,” it said.
We are dying one by one —Pensioners
The Kwara State chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Olamitola Phillip, the vice chairman, Elder Tunji Aransiola and the secretary, Comrade Ayobamidele Ajibola, in Ilorin, on Friday, said that hundreds of them had died in the last six months from ailments ranging from high blood pressure, diabetes, urinary infection, glaucoma, arthritis, stroke.
Phillip, who said that no fewer than five deaths had been recorded every week among members of the association, added that one of the highest title holders and kingmakers in the Ilorin emirate, the Balogun Fulani, Alhaji Durosinlorun Ayinla, who died last week, was a member.
He said pensioners, because of old age, nurse one ailment or the other and live on life-saving drugs, which have become so expensive in the market while the pensions are not paid.
He added that part or the whole of their monthly pay goes into the buying of drugs, depending on the type of ailment they are treating.
“Others who died in the last few weeks include assistant secretary of the union, Alhaji Agaka, who had been on drug for a long time. He just slumped and never recovered. He had hypertension.
Others are Elder Kolawole J. O. from Shao; Alhaji Ayinla Fate from Ilorin; Faseyi Moses from Obbo Ayegunle, chairman NUP in Offa Local Government, Pa A. B. Olasinde, Pa Oye Alawe from Obbo-Ile, J. K. Abolarin, J.J. Buraimoh from Omu-Aran, Peter Adebola, Micah Temidayo, Bola Aribalusi from Koro, Ekiti Local Government Area. He died two months ago,” he said.
The secretary of the NUP in the state, Comrade Ajibola, said that pensioners that retired in 1980 receive as low as N3,000, N4,000, and N8,000 monthly pension add that most pensioners in the state are in the age bracket of 60 and 75 years with various ailments to attend to.
He said those that retired in 1995 are badly hit, adding that pensioners in the state survive daily on the blessings of God.
“You will pity many of us when you see them. Some of us have turned to beggars, while others have become hangers-on to politicians who they follow about to survive. The state pensioners receive regular pension but same can not be said of teachers and local government pensioners who are the worst hit in the state. Only those who retire recently get monthly pension of about N100, 000 and above.
“Our legal case on payment of our pension and entitlement, started in 2008, is still at the Supreme Court. We have been sending death certificates of deceased members to the Supreme Court to buttress our argument of increasing death rate among us,” he said.
The pensioners, who called on the state government to pay the N1.68 billion owed them as pension and gratuity, said the payment would avert untimely death in their midst.
They also want the state government to implement every five years, review of pension as provided in the constitution.
We are not owing pensions —Kwara govt
Meanwhile, the Kwara State government has said that it is not owing pensions, stressing that it is up to date with payment of salaries and entitlements to state workers and retirees.
Speaking to Saturday Tribune in Ilorin, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media and Communication, Dr. Muideen Akorede, said the clarification became important in view of claims in some quarters suggesting that some pensioners in the state had died since April 2015 as a result of unpaid pension allowances.
The state government emphasised that local councils are responsible for the payment of allowances to the Local Government retirees and not state government.
“Local government councils in the state, which receive separate allocations from the Federal Government, are responsible for their pensions and have varying degrees of staff and pension arrears,” he said.
He also said that the councils had been unable to pay their workers and retirees regularly for the past few months due to the sustained drop in federal allocations accruing to them.
According to the government, the nonpayment of salaries and pension is not peculiar to local government councils in the state as most local governments are facing similar challenges which are reflective of the current financial situation in the country.
The government, however, noted that the State governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed is working with local governments chairmen to resolve the salary and pension crisis at the local governments level, including the recent release of N162m to augment allocation for the payment of July salaries, adding that the government was considering other strategies to assist them within its available resources.
The government, therefore, called on pensioners and labour unions as well as the opposition to be considerate and show understanding.
Naira falls to 412/dollar
The naira was quoted at an all-time low of 412 per dollar on the parallel market on Friday as a dollar shortage persists, traders said.
Traders told Reuters that some bureaux de change operators had been finding it difficult to access their forex account and get dollar supply after the central bank suspended nine commercial lenders from the market, putting further pressure on the local currency.
On Thursday the naira closed at 409 per dollar on the parallel market. On the interbank market it traded at 315 compared with 305 the precious day.