Asthmatic Patients, Medical Experts Examine Implications Of GSK Exit From Nigeria

Nigerians woke up on August 3, 2023 to the shocking news that GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc had decided to wind down its operations in Nigeria. The pharmaceutical company said GSK UK Group had informed GSK Consumer Nigeria of its strategic intent to cease commercialization of its prescription medicines and vaccines in Nigeria through the GSK local operating companies.

According to the company, it had evaluated various other options and concluded that there was no alternative but to cease operations, while offering the options of operating through a third party company.

The news did not sit well with many Nigerians, especially asthma patients who patronise the company’s products regularly and see them as quality pharmaceutical products.

The GSK company which began operations in Nigeria on 1st July 1972 with the name Beecham Limited, produce asthma products such as Ventolin Inhaler, Ventolin Nebules, Ventolin Tablets, and Amoxil,in addition to other products including  Ampiclox, Augmentin, Zentel, Sensodyne toothpaste and Avamys.

Meanwhile, according to the latest WHO data published in 2020, Asthma deaths in Nigeria reached 8,192 or 0.55% of total deaths for the year. This means that the case still prevails in Nigeria.

Findings by NewsNGR suggest that by the withdrawal of GSK,  these drugs may either become scarce or more expensive in the coming years, making it almost impossible for the poor asthmatic patients to buy. This also means that there may be more cases of asthma deaths.

The price of one pack of Ventolin tablets is N3000 while Ventolin nebules sells at N3000. The Ventolin inhalers sell for  N13,500 as of 13th May 2023. The prices also differ according to markets and distributors. In some places, a single Ventolin inhaler can be purchased at N4,500 while in some other places it could be as high as N8,000.

 The variation in prices is applicable to other asthma drugs as well.

Implications Of GSK’s Withdrawal -Medical Experts

Mr. Kasimu Henry, a pharmacist working with Taraba State Health Services Management Board, said the exit of GSK from Nigeria means that their products will now be imported.

He said the implications are that the products would become scarce and more costly to purchase, adding that counterfeiters may also start faking the products.

However, Dr Ajagu Nnenna, a lecturer at the department of Clinical Pharmacy and Biopharmaceutics of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, who agreed with Henry, said hospitals and pharmacists would now have to turn to other pharmaceutical manufacturers to make the products available to patients.

” Like I mentioned before, the favourable brand was Ventolin, so most companies had to stop the importation of their other Salbutamol inhalers and others. It’s now that GSK has left, we are going back to the drawing board to see how other companies can start importation,” Nenna said.

Speaking on what asthma patients can do help themselves, Henry said, “I will advise asthmatic patients to start looking for other brands that will be effective, available and affordable.

“Another advice is to get a reputable and known Pharmacy premise that can be a plug for them.

“They should get a pack of such products and study the features on the pack so as to detect a fake one whenever they come across it.

“There are specific features on the packs of drugs. These features can’t be imitated, even if one imitates such, it can’t be exactly. Such features include seals, trademarks among others.”

Ajagu Nnenna 1
Dr. Ajagu Nnenna

I Have Faith- Asthmatic Patient

Mrs Ladi Musa Kwajjafa, who relies on daily intake of Ventolin tablet,  said  she was not aware  that the GSK is the producer of three out of the four major asthma drugs she uses frequently.

She said, “I usually buy Ventolin tablets at either N100, N250 or N300, depending on their brands.

“The last time I asked, they told me one Ventolin inhaler is around N4,500 and Seretide is N8,000. This was last month when I went to buy a Ventolin tablet. I asked because each time I go to the hospital, they will be asking where my inhaler is.”

But Mrs Kwajjafa , who earns less than N50,000 as a primary school teacher, may find herself spending more in the coming days to treat her asthma attacks.That is why she is relying on her faith to survive.

She said, “I am just exercising my faith and try not to use inhalers frequently because I have a hospital close to me. So, if I have attacks, I go for aminophylline. But if it becomes chronic, they put me on Ventolin nebules.

“Since I understand myself, anytime I feel the symptoms, I go to the hospital and they give me an injection, and after two, three months, they give me antibiotics injections.”

Out of her meagre salary as a primary school teacher with LEA, earning between N35,000 to N50,000, Kwajjafa may only be left with approximately N20,500 to N35,500 after spending N14,500 on these drugs. She is now left with the high cost of living compared to what’s left of her income.

Another asthma patient, Mrs Pat says the news came to her as a told shock. “The news came as a blow to me. I’m speechless,” she said.

Kasimu Henry
Pharm. Kasimu Henry

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