By Bolaji Yisa, Lagos
A group, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) has lamented high cost of health services and delivery in Nigeria.
Addressing a press conference in Lagos on Thursday, 8 October, 2020, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) stated that the rising in price of health services and delivery has made many essential and prescription medications unaffordable and subsequently inaccessible, by quite a large number of Nigerians who live below poverty line.
Musa lamented that, “the non-affordability triggered by high production and supply costs encourages the sale of and substandard drugs in the country”.
In the same vein, the group lamented activities of unscrupulous contractors who have been sabotaging government’s efforts at providing free anti-retrovial drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS through inflation of prices the drugs.
According to the group, “as the Nigerian government struggles to sustain provision of free anti-retroviral drugs as part of HIV programmes at health facilities in the country for an estimated 3.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, this effort is mostly sabotaged by inflated prices quoted by supplying contractors, whose activities render government’s effort inadequate to eliminate the high and sometimes inequitable economic burden of HIV/AIDS on households.
“This exorbitant prices quoted by existing contractors renders government financially incapacitated to adequately provide for, and make anti-retroviral drugs accessible across health care facilities, which records resultant regular stock-out, health hazards and relapse of illnesses.
“We observed the strong resistance by some contractors with support of some insiders to prevent the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) from buying HIV drugs directly from original manufacturers which allows Government to put more people on treatment.
“We are also concerned that over-reliance on donor funds in the fight against HIV in the country constitutes a dangerous trend to sustainability, hence the need for the government to take full ownership in the prevention and treatment of HIV in the country.
“Corruption in the treatment of HIV/AIDS is no different from the corruption in the health sector. In 2003, Nigeria’s ARV programmes attracted much criticism when treatment centres were alleged to be handing out expired drugs and rejecting patients”.
Proferring solutions to the aforementioned problems, CISLAC suggested that,
“fraudulent contractors who undermine the Public Procurement Act must be thoroughly scrutinized and discouraged from defrauding the government through inflated anti-retroviral drugs supply services.
“The newly appointed Director General of NACA to engage stringent reforms in the Agency’s procurement process for impactful, efficient and cost-effective wider and sustainable service delivery in Nigeria.
“The Director General to devise appropriate sustainability plan for the procurement of drugs and consumables through cost-effective and encouraged technically know-how for domestic production in the presence of dwindling donors’ support; and avert recurring of challenges thrown at the country by Covid-19 pandemic
“The DSS should investigate the activities of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) who constitute themselves as faceless contractors and their relationship with the leadership of the Network of People Living with HIV, who we learnt are secretly used to obstruct and frustrate NACA’s effort from directly purchasing from manufacturers.
“There is the need for regulatory authorities, like NAFDAC, to support and enhance local production of affordable antiretroviral drugs with serious consideration while issuing marketing authorisation to local manufacturers.
“There is also the need for review of heavy tax burden on the pharmaceutical sector to avert multiple taxation by local, state and federal governments as well as high tariffs on raw materials, packaging materials and other ancillary materials used to manufacture medicines, primarily to encourage local production in the country.
“Government should develop a pricing policy to reduce reported high prices and wide disparity between prices of essential drugs in the country.
Also speaking at the event, a Legal Practitioner and a board member of CISLAC, Adeshina Oke, harped on the importance of good health to leadership, productive economy, and healthy citizens.
According to him, “A sick country cannot have a good leadership, neither can it have a productive economy or citizen. Hence we must get read of anything capable of deteriorating our health as a nation.
“And we cannot depend on donors forever as a country. In the long term, we must begin to look towards empowering our higher institutions for research purposes. These drugs could be a lot cheaper if they are manufactured here in Nigeria.
“Nigeria must empower her institutions so that they can be fit enough to uphold the country, should in case that day comes and funding stops coming in for purchase of retroviral drugs. And the time to start preparing is now”.