Pollution from Indian drugmakers drives drug resistance

Areas around manufacturing sites still heavily contaminated with antimicrobials and breeding multidrug-resistant pathogens Effluent from Indian pharmaceutical firms contains high levels of antibiotics, and is contributing to the growth and spread of multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria.
A team led by Christoph Lübbert from Leipzig University Hospital, Germany, analysed antibiotic pollution in Hyderabad, where 30% of India’s drug exports are manufactured.
They collected water samples close to bulk drug manufacturing facilities in and around the Patancheru–Bollaram industrial zone on the city’s outskirts; near two sewage treatment plants; and from the Musi River and habitats within Hyderabad and nearby villages.1 ‘The pharmaceutical industry has argued that it has improved production processes,’ says Lübbert.
We wanted to find out whether the situation has really changed or if there are still problems.’ The researchers analysed samples for 25 different antibiotic and antifungal pharmaceuticals using liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry.
Almost all the samples contained bacteria resistant to multiple drugs, and many were contaminated with ‘excessively high concentrations’ of antibiotics and antifungals.
Antimicrobial pollution is not a new issue.2 ‘Pharmaceuticals in the environment are a global challenge, but India has become a hotspot for this particular problem,’ Lübbert adds.
‘Although pollution from bulk drug manufacturing is less widespread, discharges that promote development of drug-resistant microorganisms can still have global consequences.’ Transfer of genetic information between pathogens, and global transit of goods and people, mean resistance can spread quickly.
This is the highest concentration of any drug ever measured in the environment The Bulk Drug Manufacturers’ Association of India (BDMAI) recently commissioned its own study, performed by Siddavattam Dayananda from the University of Hyderabad.3 The study compared bacterial loads in water and soil samples from areas near to manufacturing plants and up to 50km away.
Lübbert points out several significant flaws in the BDMAI analysis, and calls the conclusions ‘questionable’ and inaccurate.
That is highly unethical and irresponsible.’ As well as improving effluent treatment from manufacturers and eliminating environmental discharges, he highlights the need to restrict sales of antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription, and to improve waste disposal systems in hospitals.

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