The Indian government is to limit the amount of antibiotic residue permitted in wastewater released by drug factories, after a series of investigations by Changing Markets and Ecostorm, and related stories by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
A draft bill published in January introduced limits on the concentrations of antibiotics found in the waste discharged by pharmaceutical factories into rivers and the surrounding environment. Experts believe anything above these limits fuels the creation of drug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs.
The growth in superbugs is one of the biggest public health crises facing the world today. Nearly 60,000 newborns a year die from superbug infections in India. If resistance keeps rising people could once again die from common infections, while procedures such as Caesareans, hip replacements and chemotherapy could become impossible to carry out.
Most of the world’s antibiotics are made in factories in India and China, but for over a decade studies have repeatedly shown that these facilities leak antibiotic waste, known as effluent, into the environment. Until now there have been no regulations to curb poor production methods.
TBIJ published a series of stories on drug manufacturers releasing antibiotic wastewater into the environment in 2016 and 2017, published with the Wire in India and The Times and the i newspapers in the UK. We also showed that NHS trusts were buying drugs from factories leaking antibiotic effluent.
In 2016, on-the-ground research by Ecostorm, and subsequent analysis of water samples under the supervision of Dr. Mark Holmes from the University of Cambridge, found high levels of drug-resistant bacteria at sites in three Indian cities: Hyderabad, New Delhi and Chennai.
Out of 34 sites tested, 16 were found to be harbouring bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At four of the sites, resistance to three major classes of antibiotics was detected, including antibiotics of ‘last resort’, those used to treat infections that fail to respond to all other medicines.
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