Drug makers have cut down production of vitamin C tablets due to thin profit margins, leading to acute shortage of the medicine prescribed to pregnant women, asthmatic patients and children with dental problems. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant and its deficiency leads to scurvy.
Due to curbs on raw material imports from China, drug manufacturers are finding it unviable to produce the medicine whose retail price is controlled by the government.
As per All India Chemists and Druggists Association (AICDA), popular vitamin C brands such as Limcee manufactured by Piramal Healthcare and Celine from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are in short supply for the past three months.
"The industry cannot manufacture it at the current price, as it is not profitable," Piramal Healthcare director corporate affairs Harinder Sikka told ET.
The government controls retail prices of medicines prepared from 74 specified bulk drugs through the National Pharma ceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA). NPPA assured for a price revision of the vitamin C medicine, but no action has been taken as yet," Mr. Sikka said.
"Rarely, we get small quantities of chewable Limcee from Piramal Healthcare, but that's not enough. There is no supply of Vitamin C in plain form," AICDA vice-president Ajay Pal Gupta said.
Vitamin C is a small product category with already low prices. Hence, the government should not control its price, Mr. Gupta said.
"The government should regulate prices of medicines that are expensive," he added. Piramal Healthcare's Limcee is priced at Rs 14.90 for a strip of 15 tablets whereas GSK's Celin is priced at around Rs 7.70 for a strip of 10 tablets.
According to an industry official, the current price of the Vitamin C raw material imported from China is in the range of Rs 812-922 a kg. Besides, it attracts an additional anti-dumping duty of $3.99 a kg.
Fearing that component of Vitamin C raw material in multi-Vitamin brands will lead to price control, companies are even taking off Vitamin C compounds from their multi-Vitamin brands, Mr. Gupta said.
The size of the multi-vitamin market is about Rs 1,500 crore, while annual sales of plain Vitamin C medicine is around Rs 100 crore.