Nearly 60,000 babies die in India each year because of drug resistant bacteria produced in none other than Indian pharmaceutical factories, which manufacture antibiotics. The deadly bacteria, known as superbugs, are immune to almost all known antibiotics.
London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Sweden based The Changing Markets have separately reported that factories based in Hyderabad, Chennai and New Delhi are the major sources of drug resistant bacteria.
Initial indications of the deadly development had come from the first State of the World’s Antibiotics report, revealed last year by Washington-based Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP). The report confirmed that the superbug – New Delhi metallo-betalactamase (NDM 1) was identified in environmental samples from water sources in Vietnam. Superbugs in India, first discovered in New Delhi, have now spread to more than 70 countries in all regions of the world.
The report by The Changing Markets implicated the Indian factories and their suppliers in China in the rampant spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Dirty production processes and improper discharge of disposal provide ideal breeding conditions for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the report.
Of the 34 sites tested in Hyderabad, New Delhi and Chennai, investigators found antibiotic resistant bacteria in 16. Four of the sites hosted bacteria resistant to the three major classes of antibiotics, including those of “last resort” – prescribed only when all other medications fail. “Our findings represent only the tip of the iceberg,” Nusa Urbancic, campaigns director of Changing Markets has observed.
Investigators followed antibiotics from these manufacturers through supply chain data and Freedom of Information requests to major distributors in the West, including the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), French hospitals, German insurances and pharma giants Teva, Pfizer and McKesson.
A 2013 study published in the Lancet medical journal had estimated that 58,000 babies die each year from superbugs in India, where one-fifth of the world’s supply of generic drugs originates. Yet another Lancet report from last year showed a rise of 29 percent resistance to antibiotics for a certain pathogen in 2008 to 57 percent in 2014. Even India’s livestock are increasingly falling victim to AMR.
China, too, is suffering from high and rising rates of AMR. A 2012 study reported a 22 percent increase in AMR in China over six years, compared to a six percent increase in the U.S. within a similar time frame.
The reports observed that these factories in India and China are in many cases improperly dumping waste into their surroundings. Concentration of antibiotics in rivers in the Hyderabad area, for example, was 1,000 times higher than what is considered to be safe.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria has emerged as major global threat and if not checked threatens to result in about 10 million deaths each year by 2050.Health experts already attribute nearly one million deaths each year to AMR, and believe that its rapid rise could soon make even routine procedures or common illnesses a “life-or-death gamble.”
While over- and misuse of antibiotics in human medicine and farming are the leading causes of AMR, manufacturing pollution is the third major interlinked cause, experts say. AMR is rapidly rising to the ranks of the HIV/AIDS crisis, they feel.