Despite the ban on the use of chloroquine for the treatment of malaria, Nigerians still patronise the drug for a myriad of reasons, as Winifred Ogbebo, Abuja, Najib Sani, Bauchi, Muh’d Zangina Kura, Dutse and Nnamdi Mbawike, Enugu, find out.
The dependence of some Nigerians on Chloroquine for the treatment of malaria, one of the major killer diseases that poses a serious threat to over 100 million Nigerians, is almost becoming an indispensible habit.
Chloroquine, which had been the main antidote for the treatment of malaria until the Nigerian Government decided otherwise, has been officially banned for the purpose.
Years after Chloroquine was found to have built up resistance to malaria, the federal government banned the use of the drug as a first-line treatment for malaria, discouraging its use in government and private hospitals.
The development of resistance, defined as the ‘ability of a parasite strain to multiply or to survive in the presence of concentrations of a drug that would normally destroy parasites of the same species or prevent their multiplication,’ has threatened the continuing usefulness of Chloroquine which was hitherto, the anti-malarial drugs.
Malaria resistance to Chloroquine had spread rapidly through South America, Southeast Asia to East Africa and eventually to all endemic countries of the continent, including Nigeria.
According to health experts, the consequences of drug resistance may manifest in the form of an increase in morbidity and mortality, delay in initial therapeutic response and an increasing cost to the community.
In Nigeria, it is estimated that at least about 50% of the adult population experience at least one malaria attack yearly while children under the age of five are exposed to two and four attacks of malaria yearly.
The economic loss arising from malaria attacks in Nigeria has been put at N132 billion, arising from costs of treatment and transport to source of treatment, loss of man-hours, absenteeism from schools and other indirect costs.
Thus, malaria imposes a heavy cost not only on the nation’s income, but also on its rate of economic growth and development.
In a bid to stem the pernicious effect of the ailment, the federal government came out with a new malaria treatment policy in 2005 known as
Arteminsinin Combination Therapy,(ACT).
But despite the action, malaria has continued to afflict the nation unabated. The negative effect of the disease was amplified by Nigeria’s health minister, Prof. OnyebuchiChukwu at the just concluded-World Malaria Day, which was commemorated on the 25th of last month. The minister had at the occasion lamented that malaria had continued to defy solution despite measures put in place by the country.
Findings by our correspondents reveal however that many Nigerians still make use of the banned drug for their treatment.
A survey of some states in Nigeria confirms that many Nigerians have either through ignorance, indulgence or sheer love for the banned drug, continued to depend on it for their treatment.
According to our correspondent in Jigawa State, although chloroquine remains officially banned in all public health institutions in the state, some private clinics and health centres still make use of the drug.
“Chloroquine is still being used in this state but in minimised fashion,” one man, who sells drugs in the state confided in one of our correspondents.
But the state Coordinator of the National Malaria Control Programme, Dr. Kabiru Ibrahim, denied the claim, saying that once the new policy on Chloroquine was adopted by the government, they had also complied accordingly.
“We have since adopted strategies to ensure the use of the approved drugs for the treatment of the disease,” the coordinator said.
Among the measures adopted in the state are, the purchase and sale of the ACT drugs at a subsidised rate to private chemists, clinics and maternities. The aim, according to Ibrahim, is to ensure that the drug is sold at the subsidized rate of N150 as against the market price of N1,500.
Similarly, the ACT drugs is distributed free of charge to the patients in all public hospitals while special training is given to medical staff on the new policy of malaria treatment”.
“I can confidently tell you that Chloroquine has totally disappeared from government-owned health facilities,” said the co-ordinator.
But in Enugu State, the proscribed drug is still being sold in secret. Some private clinics also sell the drugs openly despite its ban.
But findings reveal that such pharmacies only sell the drug to trusted persons to avoid being arrested by law enforcement agents.
It was also discovered that Chroloquine tablets are more prevalent in most pharmaceutical shops than the injection.
A drug dealer in Enugu, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, attributed the sad development to the insistence of patients on the use of the banned drug.
“It is not our fault; we try to convince people that there is a new way of treating malaria but they will not listen. Most people prefer Chloroquine to the new therapy because of the old things they knew about the drug.
They don’t dispense it openly to avoid being apprehended. People prefer the injection than the tablets, the source said.
Another medicine dealer, MrIkechukwuOgbonna, however, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that the level of compliance with the ban on the drug was very high in the city, saying he was sure that even patent medicine dealers do not sell the drug anymore.
He stated that despite occasional demand by patients for the use of the drugs, they have also discouraged them from using it because of its multiple side effects.
But a resident of Enugu, Mr. IbekweAnumkua, said that he had become so used to Chloroquine for the treatment of malaria that he can hardly change to any other formula. “It cures malaria faster,” he said, insisting that he had not noticed any effect of the drug since he started taking it.
This may be either due to the ignorance on the part of the sellers and consumers or the inability of the regulators to enforce the law on Chloroquine.