Nigerians turn to unproven asthma treatments as inhaler costs rise

Wednesday May 08 2024


In Nigeria, soaring inhaler costs pose a significant challenge for asthma patients, especially as the world marked Asthma Day this week.

The departure of multinational firms like GSK, coupled with inflation, has driven prices skyward, rendering essential medications unaffordable. As a result, patients are turning to alternative treatments.

World Asthma Day 2024 finds Nigeria facing a mounting health crisis with asthma medication costs soaring more than 500 percent in less than a year.

That has led many like Khalida Jihad, an asthma sufferer for nearly 30 years, to cut down on their medical supplies.

"I hardly buy and stock up any more...but I definitely have to have inhaler no matter the cost I definitely have to have it but then what about people who can't afford to have it?" she said.

Read: Africa incomes falling behind rest of world


Some, like Rita Joseph, a college student, unable to afford inhalers, turn to untested alternatives.

"For four months now, I can't afford inhaler because of the high price so, I now use ginger, garlic, cloves, lemon and other natural ingredients because they are cheaper," she said.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease causing breathing difficulties. It affects millions globally, and results in more than 450,000 preventable deaths annually, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

While Nigeria lacks recent official data, a 2019 survey estimated the country has 13 million asthma sufferers, among the most in Africa.

Public health experts like Ejike Orji fear the rising cost of medication could lead to a crisis.

"If the drug to manage that is not handy when someone has an acute attack, it leads to loss of life," Orji said.

"As one asthma is finishing attack, another one is starting and that is why affordability of those drugs is very important. Good example, Ventolin inhaler is a standard drug people buy, now Ventolin inhaler is not even in the market."

Asthma's burden falls heavily on low-income countries. More than 80 percent of deaths occur there due to lack of awareness, poor management of the disease, and limited healthcare access as disclosed by WHO.

Orji emphasizes the need for Nigeria’s government to promote asthma awareness.

"One area the government can do something is to increase the public education and community engagement to create comprehensive awareness of what to avoid if you are an asthmatic, what to do to prevent yourself getting into trouble and when you are having an attack, what to do immediately," Orji said