Mumbai: Where have all the vitamin C tablets gone?
It's been four months since proper supply stopped, distributors say; patients say replacements in the market are exorbitant
If you're having troubling finding your favourite vitamin C supplement, Celin or Limcee (tablets and chewables), at the chemist, you can blame the government for it. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has suddenly decided to bring these two vitamin C drugs under the controlled category, which means their price will now be decided by the government. These drugs were earlier a D-category listing (where pharma companies could decide the price). This has now resulted in pharma companies going slow on production, badly impacting consumers.
Celin and Limcee, recommended by physicians, orthopaedicians and ophthalmologists, are not only cheap, but do not have any substitute in that price range. The alternative branded local/imported brands for Vitamin C are priced 100 times more. For instance, where a strip of 15x500mg Celin pills cost R17.50, a pack of 20x1,000 mg imported or local brand of Vitamin C pills cost R352. While Celin is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, Limcee is the product of Abbott Pharma.
Advocate Lakshmi Ravindra, from Navi Mumbai, whose mother has macular degeneration, recently managed to get a single Celin strip from a chemist with an older stock. Dr Wiqar Shaikh, a senior physician, who runs an allergy clinic, said, "I prescribe Vitamin C tablets for patients with allergic colds and rhinitis to improve their immunity. If patients cannot afford the expensive alternative brands, I suggest natural sources such as lemon juice, etc."
Dr Pradeep Bhosale, director arthritis and joint replacement, Nanavati Hospital, said, "Our pharmacist still has his stock as we do bulk purchases. It is important in post surgery recovery.
Interestingly, BMC and government-run pharmaceuticals do not have any problem with their supply of Vitamin C medicines. A senior physician from Rajawadi Hospital said, "We have a central purchase department that does bulk purchases of medicines. However, unlike large pharma companies, who do extensive R&D on their drugs and packaging, our drugs are generic with no brand name."
Cost of strip of 15x500mg Celin pills
Cost of pack of 20x1,000 mg imported or local brand
Dilip Mehta, president of the Pharmaceutical Wholesalers Association for Mumbai, that has 500 members, confirmed the shortage of Celin and Limcee. He said, "Pharma companies have not been supplying to stockists for the past few months. Ever since these Vitamin C drugs were brought under the ambit of controlled drugs by NPPA, production has reduced. Also, most of the bulk raw material/finished products come from China, where many pharma companies are facing problems due to pollution issues," said Mehta. He said multivitamin like Cobadex Forte and Neosporin ointment, too were in short supply. Mehta said, "NPPA has 75,000 brands of tablets, capsules, syrups, ointments under two categories – controlled and uncontrolled.
He said, "A wholesaler makes around 8 per cent on a controlled drug and 10 per cent on D category drugs, and the retailer in turn makes 16% on MRP of the controlled drug and 20% on D category drugs." Prasad Danve, secretary, Retail Dispensing Chemist Association, Mumbai, admitted there was a shortage and said they had no cheap substitutes. A senior drug wholesaler, who did not wish to be named, said, "The government is putting additional pressure on pharma companies that are already finding it difficult to break even in certain fast moving medicines. And, there are MNC pharmacy companies who are in dialogue with stockists and dealers asking them to cut their share, as they are finding it difficult to give wholesalers and retailers a margin by cutting their profits."
"There was a temporary short supply of Celin and Cobadex forte due to short term operational challenges, but these will be resolved soon. However, Neosporin is available in full supply," a Glaxo spokesperson, who was non-committal about when supply would match demand.
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