Healthcare experts including physician and pharmacists have expressed concerns over the implementation of the new monetary policy in Nigeria with limited cash in circulation, saying it is taking negative toll on citizens’ health, with increased symptoms of mental distress, malnutrition, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other ailments seen among patients. They predicted that more and more Nigerians will come down with these conditions if the situation is not urgently addressed.
The practitioners also observed a sharp decrease in purchase of medications from retail pharmacies, stating that this is another pointer to the looming escalation of morbidity and mortality in the country, as abstinence from routine medicines for hypertensive patients and diabetics could lead to deteriorating health conditions and premature death.
The Chief Medical Director, St Raphael Hospital Ltd, Dr Anthony Omololu, in an exclusive interview with Pharmanewsonline, narrated the pain points of patients in the prevailing economic situation in the country, saying Nigerians are subjected to untold hardship with direct implication on their health which could become worse, except the Federal Government demonstrates a strong political will to remedy the situation.
According to him” Already people are displaying symptoms of mental health disorder as seen in many banks, where citizens who couldn’t get cash strip themselves naked out of frustration and perplexity. We are going to see more of this if the situation is not reversed.
“Aside this, a lot of diabetes patients are having financial challenge in meeting up with their daily medical routines, it’s getting worse now as they are finding it pretty difficult to get cash to purchase their drugs.
“Definitely the situation will lead to hunger, as there is limited currency in circulation, and everyone can’t have access to the new notes easily, thus, families and children are starved of food, and this will of course lead to malnutrition”.
Harrowing experience of patients in the community
Pharmacist Abiola Paul-Ozieh, founder, HiRock Pharmacy, also revealed the implication of the prevalent cash swap and fuel scarcity on community health services, as clients are most times stranded due to lack of naira notes to do out-of-pockets healthcare purchase. She averred that not even the provision of mobile transaction could bring respite to clients as telecommunication companies have joined the conspiracy to frustrate patients with network failure.
She described the scenario in the community as patients experiencing suffering, pains, untold hardship and a precarious condition in the neighborhood and the country at large. The citizens’ purchasing power has reduced; there is confusion, agitations, protests and ill-will.
Paul-Ozieh further said since the commencement of this implementation, patients have been pushed to the wall, as they had nothing to fall back to, except to plead with the pharmacist for credit sales. And even some request cash from pharmacists by transferring excess money for transaction made, in order for the community caregiver to return balance in cash.
“The prevailing cash scarcity is affecting consumers of medicines and health commodities adversely. In the first instance because many patients and consumers procure their medications from out- of- pockets spending the scarcity of cash has impinged negatively on their purchasing power and habits.
“A couple of times you see patients walk in to complain of lack of cash, inability to withdraw from ATMs, POS and frustrated by inability to make transfers using their phones. Some demand outright sale on credits because they live in the neighborhood, while some will opt for reducing the quantities procured to come back later to complete their prescribed medications.
“In the community too, we have since seen some residents requesting payments from the Pharmacy operators: they make a purchase and ask to transfer more than the value of their purchase so that they can have cash to go use to procure food items or for transportation.
“Though the use of mobile transfers and POS machines appears to be desirable alternatives for payment, it is regrettable that our telecom network services are also unleashing untold hardship on intending clients and patients in community settings”, she lamented.
Sharp decrease in sales of medicines and patients’ health
Pharm. Ismail Kola Sunmonu, founder, Caratiyah Pharmacy, also attested to the decrease in purchase power of patients, which has directly impacted on retail pharmacies sales with 30 percent reduction in sales of medications.
While his pharmacy is not exempted from the reduction in sales, he is rather more concerned about the condition of the patients who have abstained from their routine medication due to lack of cash, asking what they would resort to for the main time.
“Some of us who have latched on to electronic transactions before now are running smoothly, but at reduced patronage, because what is the percentage of our clients who are cashless complaint?
“The question is what does this affected 30 percent patients resort to for their medications as they have seized to purchase their drugs?
“The implication is that some may resort to abstinence from medications, which would aggravate their conditions, while others may go for herbal concoctions, which has no standard measurement. So it is sure that patients’ health is being affected. Something must be done urgently to resolve the situation; else this may lead to increase in morbidity and mortality”, asserted.
Panacea to the problem
In forestalling the impending morbidity and mortality, Dr Omolola appealed to Nigerians to be more empathetic with one another by offering assistance to their neighbours where necessary. He also urged the upper class citizens to sympathise with the downtrodden by coming to their aid with cash and kind.
The physician then implored the government to show a strong political will to resolve the condition.
“First of all, we need to appeal to Nigerians to be more empathetic with ourselves, of course government has its role to play, but one on one, and we need to find means of helping one another. People need to have godly fear in relating with their neighbours and colleagues.
“Finally, government must demonstrate a strong political will to remedy the situation. The Federal Government must liase with the CBN to resolve the bottlenecks around cash dispensing in order for everyone to have at least some cash to assist their daily operations”, he suggested.
For Paul-Ozieh, it is high time government woke up to work towards medicines availability, accessibility and affordability in collaboration with the pharmaceutical sector industrial players. “Indigenous production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) is key to our becoming self- reliant in local production of our drug needs”.