Improving Nigerians’ health, IGR through sugar tax

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By Abujah Racheal, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Mr Isaiah Nguuma, a 47 year-old bricklayer, who resides in Dei Dei community in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), experienced weight loss and blurred vision some few years ago.

His mouth was always dry; usually, very thirsty, and was making frequent visits to the restroom. Recounting his ordeal he told this writer that it was very scary for him.

“The journey started four years ago, when I was 43 years old. I had no energy and felt drained for months.

“I thought it was spiritual. I went from one prayer house to the other and was taking energy boosting pills to feel better”, he said.

With persistent symptoms Nguuma had to seek remedy by buying drugs from a chemist within his neighbourhood.

“But there was no solution until I was rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja one day where tests showed that I had dangerously high blood sugar levels known as hyperglycemia.

“My blood sugar level was 475 mg/dl. I was rushed to the emergency room; and after my discharge from the hospital, I was asked to pay close attention to my diet.

“This is because certain foods and beverages can cause my blood sugar levels to fluctuate dangerously,” he recalled.

Mr Emmanuel Abimbola, a mechanic at the Baba Tsauni area of Gwagwalada also in the FCT who had a similar medical history said it is a `curse` to be saddled with a disease that’s life-threatening condition.

The 27 year-old Abimbola, who was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, said suffering from the ailment could lead to depression.

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“Having diabetes of any form is frustrating. Most times, when I cannot afford my drugs, I will resort to using alternative medicine.

“You become a beggar before friends and family and sometimes they wish you were not existing because of the frequent visits to hospital. The complications associated with the sickness are many,” he said.

According to a Harvard University study people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages regularly – one to two cans a day or more – have a 26 per cent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who rarely consume such drinks.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers fiscal policies priority interventions for the promotion of healthy eating in its Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

The taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) is one of such fiscal policies which is expected to rise the prices of such products thereby lowering their consumption.

SSBs are categorised as liquids that contain natural or added sweeteners, including various forms of sugars such as brown sugar, corn sweetener.

They also include corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.

WHO reports indicate that as of May 2022, over 80 countries and jurisdictions (including subnational levels) had levied taxes on SSBs.

Some African countries, including Nigeria, have enacted SSB tax policies. Nigeria government adopted a sugary drinks tax to tackle rising levels of obesity and other diseases in the country.

The tax was signed into law as part of the 2021 Finance Act. It adds N10 to each litre of all `non-alcoholic and sweetened beverages`.

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Sadly, deaths from non-communicable diseases have remained high in Nigeria, rising calls for the Federal Government to further jerk up taxes on sugary beverages and drinks. The cost of managing diabetes is also enormous.

Dr Francis Fagbule, a public health professional, said the average monthly cost of drugs for diabetic patients in the country can vary, depending on factors such as the type of diabetes, severity, and treatment plan.

Fagbule, a lecturer, at the Department of Periodontology and Community Dentistry, University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria, said the drugs cost between N2000 and N30000 monthly depending on type and the dosage required.

“For instance, some commonly prescribed drugs for diabetes in Nigeria include metformin, insulin, sulfonylureas, and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors, among others.

“It is important to note that the cost of drugs is only one aspect of diabetes care as diabetic patients may also need to pay for regular doctor’s visits, blood glucose monitoring devices, and other supplies.

“Moreover, the high cost of diabetes care in Nigeria can be a major barrier for many people, especially those living in poverty, to access the treatment they need to manage their condition effectively,” he explained.

Dr Adamu Umar, President of the Nigerian Cancer Society (NCS), said as health costs and deaths linked to health-harming products such as SSBs mount, it is imperative for the federal government to sustain the SSB tax.

“It is the responsibility of every government to protect, promote, and guarantee the health of its citizens – as per their national constitutions, legislation, regulations, and policies, as well as international conventions,” he said.

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Ms Veronica Schoj, Vice President, Food and Nutrition, at Global Health Advocacy Incubator, said that the revenue collected can be used for health programmes.

According Schoj the tax is a win-win-win for governments because it discourages their consumption, and encourages consumers to make healthier choices while also fueling the country with resources to support health measures.

“The SSBs contribute to all forms of malnutrition, reducing the consumption of nutritious food,” she said.

Mr Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), said that the SSB tax can generate additional revenue that can be used to fund NCD prevention and treatment programs in the country.

He said the successful implementation and sustainability of the SSB tax regime requires the collaboration and engagement of all stakeholders, including the government, private sector and civil society organisations.

However, the Director-General, Budget Office of Federation (BoF), Mr Ben Akabueze, said that given the country’s low sugar consumption, many question the necessity of an SSB tax.

Nonetheless, Akabueze acknowledged that the prevalence of NCDs is on the rise in the country,

“Prevention is always better than cure. We should not wait to get to a crisis point to take steps.” he said. (NANFeatures)

**If used please credit the writer and News Agency of Nigeria.

Ismail Abdulaziz

Deputy Editor in Chief,
Multimedia, Solutions Journalism & Website
Abuja.

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