LAHORE - Folic Acid, an essential supplement for pregnant women, has mysteriously disappeared from pharmacies across the province, TheNation’s investigation reveals.

Its absence from medical stores’ shelves has added to the public woes as the drug has no other substitute. It is, however, being sold at 20-25 times higher price in black market due to inability of the health managers to ensure its manufacturing and availability in sufficient quantity.

It is either with patronage of drug inspectors or owing to their apathy towards check on black marketing that the medical stores are selling Folic Acid to selected customers at exorbitant price.

Those who could not afford paying 20-25 times high price for the tablets are left with no other option but to purchase herbal sachet. These sachets, according to doctors, are useless and “contain only coloured water”.

In their off-the-record conversation with this scribe, the manufactures of this essential drug have attributed the shortage to rising cost of the raw material. But they did not come up with a plausible explanation when asked why they did not approach the Drug Regulatory Authority for revision of the price.

As many as 15 local pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing 5mg and 600mg tablets of Folic Acid, while its retail price ranges from Rs14 to Rs345. Imported or smuggled tablets are sold for 20-25 times higher than normal.

“Health managers, manufacturers and medical store owners are only making lame excuses. The ultimate reality is that people are running from pillar to the post for getting Folic Acid, but they are not getting it on retail price,” said Dr Khurram Shahzad of Jinnah Hospital.

“Paying 25 times extra price is injustice with the masses. This supplement is must for pregnant women besides. It is also used in management of dozens of diseases,” he added.

Intake of Folic Acid before conception and during the first month after pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects. Neural tube defects are severe abnormalities of the central nervous system that develop in embryos during the first few weeks of pregnancy resulting in malformations of the spine, skull, and brain.

It also reduces the risk of congenital heart defects, cleft lips, limb defects, and urinary tract anomalies. Its deficiency also increases risk of preterm delivery, infant low birth weight and fetal growth retardation. Its adequate intake is necessary for fertility in both men and women.

Folic acid reduces the risk of stroke by regulating homocysteine concentration. Its supplementation decreases risk of colorectal cancer. It is also necessary in controlling depression.

When contacted Kh Salman Rafiq, Adviser to Chief Minister on Health, he assured this scribe he would ask the Health Director General to investigate the matter.

“Action will be taken against distributors and retailers involved in black marketing of Folic Acid. If shortage is due to lack of manufacturing, the matter will be raised with the federal government for taking action against pharmaceutical companies,” Rafique promised.