It’s Christmas. A time for merrymaking and holidaying. Whether you believe that December 25th is actually the birthday of Jesus Christ or not, Christmas has become a universal holiday and a money-spinner for most businesses. What is important is that we are alive and still kicking. Just last week, I lost a brother and friend, Abdul Imoyo. He was the Head of Media and Publicity at Access Bank. He was hale and hearty the last time we spoke, just last month. I never knew that would be our last conversation. Abdul was a jolly good fellow; a good man. He never looked down on anybody, young or old. He was always wearing a smile, and ready to lend a helping hand. Our paths crossed when he was at UBA before he moved to Access Bank. Abdul was good at what he did, which gave a good representation of the Bank he worked for. May God grant him peace in the repose of his soul, amen.
While those of us still alive are celebrating this Christmas, my plea is that we should watch what we eat and drink. Many are not bothered about what they consume or how they are produced; whether they are illegally manufactured in uncompleted buildings as seen in many trending videos, and have the potential to damage vital organs in our system. What these illegal ‘manufacturers’ are more concerned about is making money. Like yahoo boys, they have found a lucrative business that aids their dreams to ‘hammer’ and make it ‘big’. To them, the end justifies the means. Just hustle and make money, lots of money. And in making the money, they compromise the health and life of millions.
There is no product in the market now that you won’t find it’s fake counterpart. Just last week, some of the manufacturers of fake products were arrested in Abia State by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). At the end of the operation, which involved other sister security agencies, 10 suspects were arrested and beverages including wines, soft drinks and other consumables worth over N750 million were seized from the cartel. Their headquarter was in Eziukwu Market in Aba Abia State.
The agency had to destroy 1,500 cartons of fake and substandard products, while another 300 cartons were evacuated to the agency’s warehouse. The raid on the market is not the first, and it is not likely to be the last. Once arrested, the merchants of death soon found their way out of detention and back to their nefarious activities. With few millions of naira, they evade justice. The syndicate’s interest is in consumable products that Nigerians love to consume like Seaman Schnapps, Henessey, Four Cousins, Carlo Rossi, Jenny, Chelsea London Dry Gin, Schnapp Dry Gin, McDowells, Black Labels, Gordons, Martelli, Campari, Smirnoff ice, Eva Non-Alcoholic Drink, Evra Non-Alcoholic Drink, Cartel, and others; products with fake brands in the market. Also, they date revalidation for expired products like Peak Milk, Powdered Milk and the rest.
Few days after the Aba raid, the Police arrested two men who manufacture and sell fake drinks to unsuspecting members of the public. Benjamin Hundeyin, a Superintendent of Police and Police Spokesperson for Lagos State said that the men were arrested by officers of Ojo Division, and gave their names as Imo Lawrence, aged 35, and Magnus Nwonka, aged 42. They later led detectives to their ‘factory’ so run-down, a normal human being should not inhabit. I’ll leave the quality of what they were producing there to your imagination.
While NAFDAC and the Police are arresting these merchants of fake products, several others are getting those same products successfully into the market, hence the rise and rise in cases of kidney, liver, and heart failure in our society. This is where we should all pay attention to what we eat and drink this festive season. More than 80 per cent of products in the market are counterfeit products that have the potential to make you fall sick, and eventually cost you your life.
Once you are sick or battling with serious health challenges involving the body’s major organs like liver, kidney or heart, you would have to be placed on drugs to prolong and keep you alive. However, those drugs are no longer cheap.
In Nigeria presently, it is better to do all within your power to stay healthy than to fall sick. The term “prevention is better than cure” can’t be truer now, due to the fact that you will have to part with a lot of money to regain your health in case of sickness, and you will be lucky if you do. Even to treat ordinary malaria fever is no longer cheap now.
Artesunate injection 120mg for the treatment of malaria which cost N1,050 in September is now sold for N2,500. The 60mg of the same injection was N900 during that period, but now N1,800. Coartem 80/480 used to be N2,200, but is now sold for N3,300. Amatem soft gel was N1,500, but the price is now N2,500. Lonart 80/480mg was sold for N1,600 but it is sold for N2,850 now. Augmentin 625mg, an antibiotic was N3,000 few months ago, but it is now sold on average for N25,000. Augmentin 1g was N4,000, but it is now N26,000. Ventolin Inhaler was N2,000 but it is now N8,000. The Seretide Disk inhaler was N3,500 but now N38,000. Exforge HCT 10mg/160mg/25mg was N21,200, but is now sold for N29,700. Co-Diovan 260/12.5, which was up for N17,500, is now sold on average for N23,000. Natrilix SR was N5,000, but the price has risen to N8,700, while the price for Natrixam 1.5 mg/5 mg increased from N8,300 to N10,500. Galvus Met 50 mg/ 500 mg skyrocketed from N22,000 to N39,000 in November. The price of Galvus 50 mg has increased from N14.500 to N18,800, and Glucovance 5mg/ 1000-2mg, which was sold for N9,500, is now N12,000. Insulin which was sold for N10,000 is now sold for N14,000.
Many Nigerians, particularly the elderly and pensioners can no longer afford to buy these drugs to take care of their health. Some have now resorted to using herbal drugs, while others simply take to fasting and praying, hoping for a miracle to make their ailments disappear. Many others simply stay at home, waiting for death. How sad!
The increase in the prices of drugs have been attributed to the removal of fuel subsidy and the falling value of the Naira to the Dollar. The exit of GSK due to tough working conditions in the country has also been attributed to the high cost of drugs in the country. GSK’s exit not only led to an increase in prices of drugs, but also the scarcity of some essential drugs from the market.
With no proper health insurance policy in place particularly for the elderly and retired pensioners, many Nigerian senior citizens may well be on their way out quickly, as many Nigerians rely on out-of-pocket expenses to take care of their health. Imagine a retiree on a monthly pension of N50,000 that is now expected to spend close to N30,000 to buy his drugs monthly.
Despite a robust department known as the Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines Department in the Federal Ministry of Health during the regime of Professor Isaac Adewole as Health Minister, little or nothing has been done to promote alternative medicines practice in Nigeria. Though former President Muhammadu Buhari gave approval to the Department through the Head of service in a letter OHCSF/MSO/72/IV/132 dated April 4th, 2018, the vision of the government then was to see the practice of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines in Nigeria become a respected mode of treatment, preserving our cultural heritage with respectable practitioners and providers, and delivering quality healthcare to all Nigerians.
But the bold move of the government then must have died with the initiators of the programme as nothing much has come out of the Department, if at all it is still in existence. Had the department been up and running, many of our herbal products should have been formulated in capsule form, removing all the harmful substances in them by experts in the field to make them safe for consumption, and with a long shelf life.
Apart from the way we have managed alternative medicines in the country, health insurance policy is almost zero. Must HMOs in the country have compounded the crisis in the sector rather than making health care accessible to most Nigerians. In most government hospitals, many patients have turned to beggars, pleading with visitors and fellow patients for money to buy drugs.
Both the Federal and State governments should examine how to mitigate the suffering of Nigerians with chronic ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, ulcer, etc which needs post-hospital care and management, sometimes for life. To do this, government should mitigate healthcare costs, particularly in purchasing medications, through strategies like boosting local pharmaceutical production, stabilising currency rates, implementing subsidies or price controls, expanding health insurance coverage, promoting generic medicines, fostering public-private partnerships, and enhancing health education and awareness.
Concerned about the high cost of out-of-pocket expenses Nigerians experience to access medicines and other pharmaceutical products, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof Mohammed Pate recently met with representatives and Chief Executive Officers of pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria to find solutions to the crisis. In a post on his verified X handle @muhammadpate, Prof Pate said that the government of President Bola Tinubu was keen on finding ways to reverse the hardship of Nigerians in this regard. “The Federal Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, @Fmohnigeria, is working towards policy actions that may address the high prices of medicines, especially for the most vulnerable Nigerians,” he noted.
The Minister of State for Health, Dr Tunji Alausa, has also visited the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) in an effort to see how to bridge the country’s pharmaceutical gaps. Alausa is of the view that the country should not be battling counterfeit drugs with the facilities at the institute. He added that the institute just needed more clinical trials to get its products to the public for use and to unlock the value chain for people to begin to create jobs.
However, before the government gets its acts together in readiness for us, it is incumbent on you and I to keep ourselves healthy and alive. The first step to that is to monitor what we consume.
See you next week.