August 17, 2008

Bitter pill from Beijing: Drug shortage in India

Abhinav Bindra's gold at the Beijing Olympics may have raised the country's hopes, but all's not gold for the Indian pharma companies. The industry could become an indirect casualty of the Beijing Olympics after the closure of China's polluting raw material producers.

A major source for Indian drug manufacturers, the shutdown could hit drug supplies to India in the coming months.

Essential medicines including antibiotics, drugs for TB, diabetes, even painkillers could soon be off the shelves across chemist stores in the country.

Drugs made of paracetamol, ibuprofen, sulphonamides, antibiotics like cephalosporin and erythromycin used to treat respiratory infections could be among the first to go.

India imports about 80 percent of its pharma raw materials from China and sells drugs worth $8 billion annually in the domestic market alone. While exports account for about $4 billion, chemist associations say from October, it will be down 75 per cent

"The Chinese government may allow the companies, but when local people protest, (they give in). If the raw materials stop coming, India will face a serious shortage of medicines,” says Secretary, All-India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists, Jagannath Shinde.

Domestic pharma manufacturers face a double whammy. While the shortage has already escalated local drug prices, regulations on price control have aggravated the problem

Director, Piramal Healthcare, Swati Piramal says, "Prices of typhoid medicines, antibiotics are 30-40 per cent higher because of our dependence on china. But we need to look for alternate supplies."

With most wholesale chemists holding an inventory of drug stocks that is expected to last till September, patients may not feel the pinch as of now. But in the coming months, it could be difficult to source medicines. It’s perhaps time to stock up on your blood pressure tablets.

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