Viral Kothari, 48, was suffering from Vitamin-C deficiency, making him prone to fatigue and infections. His doctor prescribed him Limcee, the popular Vitamin-C brand of Abbott, which is affordable and comes as chewable form in an orange flavour.
For months, Kothari was taking Limcee. A strip of 15 tablets of 500 mg dose used to cost him around Rs 15. In October this year, when Kothari went to buy the tablets, his chemist charged him Rs 70 for the strip of 15 tablets, leaving Kothari wondering about the steep rise in price.
When Kothari prodded his chemist about the rise in price, he told him that there is shortage of Rs 15 - Limcee packs in the market, and what he is offering is the reformulated version of Limcee - Limcee Plus.
Kothari went around to at least half-dozen pharmacy stores in his vicinity and also tried to buy from a big online pharmacy but there too the tablets were not available.
Abbott, however, denied that Limcee was not available in the market.
"Abbott continues to supply Limcee in India to meet the growing demand. Limcee is vitamin C for use by people with vitamin C deficiency, whereas Limcee Plus is a health supplement containing vitamin C plus amino acid. Amino acids help the body replenish cells, repair tissue and break down food," the company said.
Limcee is a combination of Ascorbic Acid 100 mg + Sodium Ascorbate 450 mg. The Limcee Plus launched by Abbott in March this year is a retweaked cocktail of Ascorbic Acid 20mg, Ascorbic Palmitate 480mg and L-Arginine L-Aspartate 6mg.
The government had included Vitamin-C (Ascorbic Acid 100 mg) tablets in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) that automatically come under drug price control. The drugs that are under price control, will only be able to increase the prices annually as per the Wholesale Price Index (WPI).
What is leading to shortage?
The price of Ascorbic Acid - the crucial active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) of Vitamin-C - had shot up due to supply disruptions in China last year as the world's second-largest economy tightened norms on safety and environment.
The price of Ascorbic Acid and other raw materials have increased 200 percent over the years.
While the prices of other APIs more or less stabilised, Vitamin-C API however remained high. Also due to price control, the companies have limited ability to pass on the cost to the customers.
For instance, GSK sold its popular Vitamin-C brand Celin to Koye Pharmaceuticals. The company declined to comment, but sources told that the product economic viability was one of the reason for the company to exit the product.
"There are very few drug makers who sell Vitamin-C and there is no flexibility to pass on the rising raw material costs to customers due to price controls and it is not easy by law to cease selling. There was a proposal to reclassify Vitamin-C as dietary supplement, thereby removing it from price control, but we don't know what happened to it," said an executive of a pharmaceutical company on condition of anonymity.