Would the British National Health Service (NHS), the publicly funded national healthcare system, ban import of specific antibiotic drugs produced by Indian pharmaceutical companies, because they allegedly lead to the growth of "superbugs" infection that is allegedly resistant to antibiotics?
It would seem so, if a new report in the “Bureau of Investigative Journalism” is any indication. Pointing out that UK’s Department of Health (DoH) is all set to come up with “new rules for antibiotic factories which export drugs to Britain”, says, superbugs proliferated by antibiotics exported by pharmaceutical companies in India are the “biggest public health crises facing the world today.”
Authored by Andrew Wasley and Madlen Davies, the report regrets, “Till now there are no checks or regulations in place to stop this happening – even though the rapid growth in antibiotic resistant bacteria in India is spreading across the world, including to the UK and NHS hospitals.”
It insists, “Purchasers of antibiotics such as the NHS must immediately blacklist pharmaceutical companies with manufacturing practices that contribute to the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and to implement procurement policies that include environmental criteria.”
The report was funded Changing Markets, which asked the investigative agency Ecostorm to collect the Indian water samples. Ecostorm was co-founded by Andrew Wasley, a co-author of the report.
Insisting that “new tests on water samples taken outside pharmaceutical factories in India which sell to the NHS found they contained bacteria which were resistant to the antibiotics made inside the plants”, the report states, “Industrial waste containing active antibiotic ingredients is being leaked into the surrounding environment.”
The report says, Changing Markets tested water samples collected at 36 locations across India - including sites adjacent to drug manufacturing plants as well as rivers and wastewater treatment plants – “and found 16 contained antibiotic resistant E.coli bacteria”.
It adds, analysis of water originating inside the perimeter of near a company's plant near the Indian city of Hyderabad has found that “70% of E.coli bacteria present were resistant to fluoroquinolones - a class of antibiotics classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being critically important to human medicine.”
The report quotes Dr JV Reddy, chief doctor at the state-run Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad with 1,200 beds, as saying that “half of all samples sent for testing, including blood and urine samples taken from patients seeking treatment, contained drug-resistant bacteria.”
The report says, “Studies have shown how this causes nearby bacteria to develop immunity to the drugs – creating 'superbugs' – and that those resistant bacteria then spread around the world.”
The report quotes top economist Lord Jim O'Neill, who conducted a major review into global antibiotic resistance, also known as AMR, to say that the results of the tests were "deeply troubling". The British government-commissioned study “found superbugs would kill more people than cancer by 2050 if no action is taken, and cited pollution in pharmaceutical supply chains as a major problem.”
One of the companies, says the report, has a “£450,000-a-year contract, supplying every NHS health region in Scotland with antibiotics including flucloxacillin, metronidazole and meropenem”, adding, “The company exports to more than 150 countries around the globe and 87% of its profits - which last year totalled about £200 million - are made from international operations, according to its most recent annual report.”
“At least three companies licensed to supply the NHS have not signed up to a new roadmap put in place following a recent United Nations antibiotic resistance summit”, the report says, adding, this has happened even as “13 global pharmaceutical firms pledged to review manufacturing and supply chains to make sure the release of antibiotics into the environment was being properly controlled.”