Following astronomical increase in prices of drugs, some residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have resorted to herbal concoctions commonly referred to as “Agbo” to treat various illnesses.
Agbo is made by combining different herbs, roots and plants that are believed to have medicinal properties.
The News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) reports that the prices of many prescribed and over-the-counter medications have witnessed a steady increase, making these drugs unaffordable and unavailable.
NAN confirmed this from some pharmacies visited in the FCT where some drugs were reported to be unavailable, such as Augmentin, Multivitamins like Omega H3, Ventolin inhaler and Fleming antibiotics.
A pharmacist who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: “GlaxoSmithKline(GSK) products are now scarce and expensive since the company announced its exit from Nigeria.
“For the GSK products, we have the example of Paracetamol which a single card was being sold at N200, but now has increased to N400.
“Fidson products too have increased in prices. Whenever we go to buy drugs, the prices keep going up.
“We are even thinking of returning some stocks supplied by our suppliers that we have not paid for because they are too expensive and people are not buying; our customers are complaining,” she said
In one of the big pharmacies visited by NAN, Ventolin inhaler is selling at N8,870 as against N2,000, while Augmentin is selling for between N23,000 to 25,000 as against N3,000 to N5,000 it was sold before the GSK exit.
Nicholas Adah, a cleaner, who spoke to NAN said he was advised by his friend to take agbo after sharing his symptoms with him.
“I went to the chemist to buy drugs but I did not have the money to buy the antibiotics they prescribed for me, it was so expensive.
” My friend told me to take agbo after I told him how I was feeling. I took his advice and they prepared the one for treating typhoid for me and I feel a lot better, ” he said.
Wasiu Ahmed, a vulcaniser, said: “Why would I go and spend money that I do not even have to buy medicine from a chemist when I can take agbo?
“The country is too hard, no money anywhere. How much do I make from this work I am doing? Agbo is good and it helps my body feel better.”
A taxi driver, Sunny Adeniyi, said he preferred to take agbo to treat his ailments because it is effective and cheaper than orthodox medicine.
” Thank God, I hardly fall sick, but whenever I feel sick like having fever or waist pain, I take agbo and it works for me.
“There is no money to go to the chemist or hospital because everything in Nigeria is expensive. By the time I buy fuel, I won’t have money again,” Adeniyi said.
Agbaje Adeola, a corporate driver, said he made agbo at home for his use and other members of his family adding that he only visited the hospital for very serious health issues.
“I take agbo every three days or if I feel like I have malaria. I prefer it because that is what I grew up with. I also force my children to take it once in a while.
“Sometimes, I do buy agbo from hawkers but the problem with that one is that there is no measurement. I prefer using local herbs because it is good for the system,” he said.
An agbo seller, Sisi Ayo, who said she has been in the business for a while, said she got new customers regularly, both the educated and uneducated people.
“Some people do not have money to buy drugs from the pharmacy when they are sick, so they patronise me.
In fact, in recent time, my patronage is more than doubled.
“My customers do ask me to mix herbs for them to treat body pains, aches, malaria or typhoid fever, “jedijedi/opa eyin” (hemorrhoids)
“ale” (libido booster) and even ulcer.
“Most of them do come back to thank me that my agbo is effective and they also recommend their friends to me.
“I also have some customers who just take it to get high and forget their sorrows. These kind of people prefer to take the agbo mixed with alcohol. ”
” I sell for as low as N100 for a measure of small cup and up to N300 depending on the ailments
For those that prefer a preparation that they can take home, I sell for N1,500 to N3,000 in a plastic container depending also on the ailments,” she said
Mrs Theresa Okafor, a retiree and widow who is hypertensive said the prices of all her medications had increased by 10 per cent to 40 per cent and she could no longer afford to buy some of them.
Okafor, who said the cost depended on brand name and availability, added that her physician had to replace some of her drugs with cheaper brands.
“My pension is N100,000 a month, and I still have children in universities. One of my medications increased from N4,500 to N6,000; the cost of food, fuel, everything have also increased. I am just living by the grace of God.
“Government really needs to help Nigerians, especially retirees, many of whom are dying everyday because they cannot afford to buy the medications prescribed for them,” Okafor said.
Pharmacist Jelili Kilani, a Deputy Director, Pharmacy Department, National Hospital Abuja, attributed the increasing cost of medication to the high cost of foreign exchange and the cost of production for locally made drugs.
“The bureaucracy involved before getting approval for the supply of drugs also affects the price and availability but the major reason prices have gone up is because most of these drugs are imported.
“Then, for those produced locally, the cost of production is high, there is no power and most manufacturers generate their own power using fuel, and diesel which we know have all increased.
Kilani said another challenge of local manufacturing was high import duties being paid for the active ingredients used to produce some of the drugs.
“There was a time we proposed that the government should remove tax on these ingredients so it would reduce the cost of production.
“Once the cost of producing the drugs is high, it will affect the cost we sell to patients. ”
“The cost of most drugs has increased. Paracetamol, which is a basic medications used to be N2 for a tablet, but now it is N10.
“Everything in Nigeria has gone up; many medications and other items have doubled in price and it has to do with the economy and is causing a snowball effects,” he said.
Kilani, in proffering the solutions, said there should be deliberate policies by the government to subsidise health commodities.
He said there must be a deliberate attempt by the government to ensure a reduction in the cost of production and the removal of duties on the items that were imported.
“Some of these multinationals producing these essential drugs are not finding it easy operating in Nigeria. For instance, GSK and Sanofi just left Nigeria.
“When they were in Nigeria their drugs were cheaper compared to now that they will be imported. The prices of many of their drugs have increased, like Augmentin, and it is the end users that suffer.
” So a kind of summit has to be organised to address this issue at the micro and macro levels because everyone is a patient whether you are a doctor or a pharmacist.
“At one time or the other everyone needs to take medication and if you cannot afford it, the end can be fatal,” he said.
The pharmacist advised those who had resorted to taking agbo to be careful especially buying from hawkers.
“Agbo is good, but the major problem is the issue of standardisation of the ingredients used in these products.
“There is this erroneous belief that there are no side effects in taking herbal concoctions but it is not true.
“When you mix three, four or five roots or leaves together they may be incompatible and lead to issues.
“Before a drug can be approved, it must go through clinical trials and that will determine the dose and duration,” he said
Kilani added: “My advice is for people to be careful because many people have died or developed complications and end up in the hospital because their livers, kidneys or vital organs are affected due to indiscriminate use of agbo.
“When someone cannot afford drugs and takes these concoctions to save money, it can be cost-ineffective.
However, in the long run, one may now pay higher to treat oneself in the hospital or pay with one’s life.”
NAN reports that In August, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc announced it was halting operations.
According to a statement published on the Nigeria Exchange, GSK Plc, which owns a majority stake in the Nigerian unit, said it will appoint third-party distributors to sell its prescription medicines and vaccines in the country.
GSK Nigeria, as contained in the statement, was struggling to maintain supplies of its pharmaceutical and vaccine products in Nigeria due to a scarcity of foreign exchange to import ingredients
Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical multinational, makers of polio vaccines in November, also announced its exit from Nigerian operations.
The company said it had appointed a third-party distributor to handle its commercial portfolio of medicines from February 2024. (NAN)