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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Priced out of health: Hypertensive Nigerians resort to unverified treatments as drug costs hit the roof

As the sun rises over the Federal Capital Territory, Mrs. Adesuwa Monday wakes up with a familiar feeling that she dreads. Her blood pressure medication, essential for keeping her hypertension in check, has become increasingly unaffordable.

Like many other Nigerians, Monday, a civil servant, has been forced to seek alternative remedies to manage her condition. “I used to pay N3,000 for a month’s supply of my medication a year ago, but now, it costs over N12,000. I simply can’t afford it anymore,” Monday said, her voice tinged with frustration.

After one year of struggling to pick the bills for her prescription, she turned to a herbalist recommended by a friend. “He gave me a mixture of bitter leaf and garlic; I can even taste ginger. I don’t know if it is as effective as my medication, but it’s what I can afford,” she said.

She remains hopeful that, one day, the cost of her medication will become affordable again. But, until then, she continues with her herbal concoction, hoping it will keep her blood pressure in check.

I used to pay N3,000 for a month’s supply of my medication a year ago, but now, it costs over N12,000. I simply can’t afford it

Gang Sule, a 78-year old retired Brig-Gen, paints a picture of the financial strain he faces while managing both hypertension and diabetes. Sule recounts the burden that has weighed heavily on his shoulders for over 18 years.

“I have been living with hypertension for more than 18 years now, but the cost of drugs has tripled in just one year. And that is not even mentioning the financial cost of managing diabetes.

“Now, imagine, my sons are jobless, and every penny we spend in this house comes from my pension. I have been retired for over 12 years now; so, you can imagine what my pension looks like in such an economy, not to talk of feeding,” he said.

As his story unfolds, it becomes clear that behind the statistics and economic reports lies a human tragedy. His struggle is not just about managing his health conditions; it is about survival in a world where every expense is a burden, and every decision carries weight.

The situation is particularly dire in a country like Nigeria where healthcare is already a significant financial burden for many. Healthcare professionals, however, warn of the dangers of unverified treatments and self medication.

I have been living with hypertension for more than 18 years now, but the cost of drugs has tripled in just one year

Dr. Emeka Okeke, a cardiologist, expressed concerns over the growing trend. “While some herbal remedies may offer benefits, they are not substitutes for prescribed medications.

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“Patients risk serious health complications if their hypertension is not properly managed,” he warned.

In spite of these warnings, the economic reality forces many Nigerians to take such risks. The government’s efforts to control drug prices have had limited success, and the national health insurance scheme covers only a fraction of the population. For many, therefore, turning to alternative remedies is not a choice but a survival strategy.

According to the Nigerian Hypertension Society (NHS), the South-East geopolitical zone bears the highest burden of hypertension in the country.

Prof. Ayodele Omotoso, the President of the NHS, used the occasion of the 23rd annual general meeting and scientific conference of the association to caution against the heart implication of reckless use of herbal remedies.

Patients risk serious health complications if their hypertension is not properly managed

According to him, nationally, the prevalence is around 30-40 per cent across the board. “If you look at the cost of this disease, not only the cost of treatment but the cost in terms of days lost to ill health and complications due to kidney failure, stroke, heart failure.

“They have economic implications on the country”, says Omotoso, also a professor of medicine and a consultant cardiologist at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital.

Prof. Solomon Kadiri, a nephrologist and member of the Africa Regional Advisory Group of the International Society of Hypertension, emphasised the significant impact of hypertension in recent decades.

blood pressure chat
Adult blood pressure chart

Kadiri said that the prevalence rate from many studies is estimated at 35 per cent to 40 per cent in adults. He underscored the importance of awareness and proactive measures. “Adults should have their blood pressure checked twice a year. If they are shown to be hypertensive, they should have their blood pressure checked more frequently, ” he said.

According to a 2022 survey by Wolters Kluwer, escalating drug prices are driving consumers to explore more affordable options.

Foods that could cause hypertension

In discussing the evolving prices of drugs in Nigeria, SBM Intelligence, an organisation that provides clarity on political, economic and social issues, recommends Wellahealth, a healthcare company.

“We have observed a concerning trend in the pricing of generic and commonly dispensed antihypertensive drugs like amlodipine and lisinopril.

“They increased by 100 per cent and 140 per cent respectively in 2023, compared to their selling prices in 2020,” said Blessing Adediwura and Khalidat Ola-Dauda, said in the SBM report.

Foods to control hypertensionThey highlighted the dramatic increases in the prices of antibiotics, stating that between 2019 and 2023, the cost and selling prices of Ampiclox surged, recorded a staggering increase of 1,390 per cent and 1,100 per cent.

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Stakeholders have called for urgent action to revitalise the pharmaceutical industries in Nigeria, emphasising the need for concerted efforts to address the root causes of healthcare financing challenges in the country.

This sentiment was echoed during a webinar organised by TheCable Newspaper to commemorate its 10th anniversary.

Adults should have their blood pressure checked twice a year. If they are shown to be hypertensive, they should have their blood pressure checked more frequently

The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof . Ali Mohamed Pate, stressed the critical need to tackle the escalating costs of medicines, including hypertension drugs.

Pate highlighted the government’s commitment to implementing policies and initiatives aimed at expanding health insurance coverage and improving affordability for all Nigerians.

Prince Julius Adewale Adelusi-Adeluyi, founder and chairman of Juli Pharmacy Plc, advocated industrialisation to address medicine affordability and availability challenges.

Drawing parallels with India’s pharmaceutical prowess, Adelusi-Adeluyi emphasised the potential for the pharmaceutical sector to follow suit and urged Nigerian leaders to seize the moment.

Prof. Moji Adeyeye, Director-General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), called for emphasis on local drug manufacturing to combat insecurity in the country and make drugs cheaper.

In spite of notable growth in the pharmaceutical market in Nigeria, challenges such as a fragmented distribution system, counterfeit drugs, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and macroeconomic factors pose obstacles to market growth.

However, stakeholders remain optimistic about the potential for technological adoption and government commitment to increasing healthcare spending to drive improvements in the pharmaceutical sector.

This expected to manifest in lower drug cost and effective management of conditions such as hypertension. (NANFeatures)

Abujah Racheal
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