As India struggles to contain the second wave of Covid-19, the price of some raw materials imported from China has risen dramatically in recent weeks, according to industry groups.
According to the heads of two trade groups, ingredients for paracetamol, which helps relieve fever, and certain antibiotics, including Azithromycin, have increased by 30 to 40% since the start of the second wave, reports South China Morning Post.
The price of raw materials for drugs used to treat Covid-19, such as ivermectin, has risen by as much as 300 percent, according to Ashok Kumar Madan, executive director of the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association.
The demand for such drugs has increased as the number of new coronavirus infections has surpassed 350,000 every day, causing hospitals to run out of supplies.
Though medical supplies have arrived from all over the world, India still relies on China for the majority of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) it requires to manufacture drugs to treat Covid-19 and other health issues.
"India is importing almost 70 per cent of our requirements from China, so when the impact comes it's basically coming with the APIs from China – it is an increase in the API prices, it's an increase in the packing material prices, and there are issues that freight prices have gone up, both air and sea," Madan said.
Sudarshan Jain, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, said the spike in prices was due to both an increase in demand and logistical issues, like fewer cargo flights from China.
There had been a significant impact on the prices of ingredients for paracetamol and some antibiotics, he said. Hospitals use paracetamol to keep fever and pain down, while antibiotics can be used to treat secondary bacterial infections in Covid-19 patients.
"If the raw materials are delayed or prices go up, it affects everyone," Jain said. "With pharmaceutical products, one does not change the ingredients and suppliers easily, it has to continue in order to maintain supplies."
Madan said that last month's decision by China's Sichuan Airlines to stop cargo flights for 15 days over disease control concerns had "spiked fears" and driven up API prices.
Flights from the state-owned carrier are expected to fully resume service this week.
Despite the recent hitch, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar last month that China would help ease the transport of medical supplies.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday that Beijing was working to keep the supply chain stable and that "no side should destabilise the [global] supply chain".
India's consul general in Hong Kong Priyanka Chauhan on Wednesday called for more efforts from the Chinese government to stabilise the prices of medical supplies and keep cargo flights in the air.
Supply shortages have been a theme in the global fight against Covid-19, with several countries, including the US, being criticised for hoarding vaccine doses and large pharmaceutical companies being called on to share intellectual property for vaccines and drugs to boost availability.
Jain said India's drug makers had been facing rising prices for key ingredients since the start of the pandemic and the situation was likely to remain difficult even after the spike in infections had levelled off.
"While the big companies continue because of their staying power, [the price rise] puts huge pressure on the small manufacturers," he said, adding that India's fixed pricing system for drugs meant the increases could not be passed on to consumers.
But both he and Madan said India's production capacity had not been hit, as drug makers strived to maintain consistency in supplies.
Madan said the industry was "taking things in its stride".
"Definitely we will be maintaining the production levels in the same capacity that is required so that we are able to cater to our domestic requirements and also we are able to meet our commitments for exports to other countries," he said. "We are not going to cut down any production."