Pain at pharmacy as Omicron wave brings high drug prices

Thursday January 20 2022
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Demand for some drugs has gone up in the market leading to a sharp increase in their prices. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

By Ange Iliza

Demand for some medicines has increased over the past few weeks, thanks to rise in Covid-19 infections.

It has emerged that patients suffering from some illness are struggling to get medicines in the market as focus has shifted to fighting Covid-19 related complication.

This, according to market insiders, has driven up prices of some drugs, leaving patients with limited or no access to some medications not only for Covid-19 related complications but also other diseases.

With hundreds of new Covid-19 cases recorded every day, the infected are required to take care of their medications and recover when they are not severely sick.

This includes buying their medications. The situation has put some commonly used drugs in demand, therefore increasing prices by at least two times more.

According to Nepo Mudathiru, a pharmacist in Kigali, drugs such as paracetamol, Efferalgan Vitamin C, Broncalene, Pherivex, all of which are associated with respiratory complications, have at least doubled in prices.


Paracetamol pills now cost Rwf200 up from Rwf100, Efferalgan Vitamin C cost Rwf1,800 up from Rwf1,000, Febrex cost Rwf500 up from Rwf200.

The prices started going up in mid-2021 when there was a wave of infection that spiked again in November 2021.

“The challenge is explaining to clients why the prices have increased. When they cannot afford the new prices, we offer them affordable alternatives if applicable,” Mudathiru explained.

He added that most of the commonly used drugs to treat respiratory complications are not prescribed by doctors therefore not paid by Mutuelle de Sante, the most common health insurance used by 88 percent of Rwandans.

In an interview with Rwanda Today, Dr Blaise Uhagaze, Executive Secretary of Rwanda Health Insurers Association said the new Covid-19 wave is one just factor for an increase in medicine prices.

In 2021, Rwanda Drugs Authority updated its process to register pharmacies and increased the registering fees. The update gave pharmacies a hard time paying more registering fees during an economic recession.

“When a pharmacy is not registered, it cannot import drugs. Ever since the update in July 2021, many pharmacies have not registered mainly because of the increased fee, meaning they are not importing what is in demand,” said Dr Uhagaze.

The increase in prices did not only occur in drugs associated with respiratory complications but also in other on-demand drugs.

For instance, a diabetic patient, with Mutuelle de Sante health insurance that covers 90 percent of the price, used to pay Rwf13,000 for a monthly prescription before November 2021.

The prescription included for instance Amarel pills to lower blood sugar and Exforge pills to regulate blood pressure. Today, the price has increased to Rwf23,000.

“For my January prescriptions, I changed some of my pills to what is cheaper but has more side effects. I could not afford more than Rwf20,000 every month. The pharmacists speculate that it is a result of the Covid-19 wave of infections,” said Marthe Mukeshimana, a 51-year-old diabetic living in Kigali.

Dr Uhagaze said that Rwanda Foods and Drugs Authority is encouraging pharmacies to register, thus being able to import drugs.

Rwanda Biomedical Center recently cut the number of days required for mandatory quarantine for covid-19 patients to seven days from 10 days for fully vaccinated under home-based care.