Prompted by controversy over origin of new antibiotic-resistant bacteria NDM-1

The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry has set up a task force for evolving a policy on use of antibiotics. The 13-member task force, chaired by the Director General of Health Services, is expected to submit a report within two months.

The decision follows the controversy over the origin of the new antibiotic-resistant bacteria, named New Delhi Metallo-beta lactamase-1 (NDM-1), as reported in a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

The NDM-1 bacterium is resistant to all antibiotics, including Carbapenems – the strongest antibiotic in the world.

Indiscriminate use

According to Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary K. Sujatha Rao, there is indiscriminate use of antibiotics, though most hospitals claim to have a policy on use of antibiotics. “Once the task force submits its report, we finalise a policy that will have to be adopted by all doctors,” she said. She admitted that there was need to create awareness among medical practitioners on indiscriminate use of antibiotics.

Denying that the Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) had issued notices to “harass” the Indian researchers who worked on the superbug story for The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, she said there were set protocols that had to be followed for any research, and transporting biological material from any country could not be done without permission.

“Even we don't allow biological material from other countries to come into India without permission. It can be harmful. And neither are we against any research,” she said.

Regulatory authority

The DGCI, being a regulatory authority, had enquired with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) whether these scientists took the permission of the screening committee to conduct the research. “The ICMR said no permission was taken. We cannot allow this. There are ethical considerations also, which have to be taken into account,” she said. The idea was not to harass the researchers for their report that was not favourable, but to create awareness that protocols should be followed for any research.

At least two of the researchers have claimed ignorance of the procedures to be followed for conducting research.

No punishment

The scientists were given 15 days to respond to the notice. However, even if they were found guilty, they would be let off with a warning. There was no provision for punishment.

Ms. Rao said the Ministry had also set up a committee to draft National Standard Treatment guidelines. The committee was working in close collaboration with FICCI, and once the guidelines were finalised, it would make insurance meaningful as there would be standardised treatment for ailments.