With possible far-reaching consequences for the pharmaceutical industry in India, a report from a European agency campaigning for the environment has blamed manufactures in Hyderabad for growing antibiotic resistance in the world.
Titled ‘Superbugs in the Supply Chain’, the report by London-based Changing Markets Foundation aims to show how effluents from pharma majors, including Aurobindo, Hetero and Mylan based in Hyderabad, besides drug-producing units from other parts of the country, are polluting the environment with drugs that in turn are driving drug resistance at a global scale. The report claims findings of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in effluent samples tested at 14 sites in and around Hyderabad in addition to sample testing in New Delhi, Chennai and Vishakhapatnam.
According to the report, sample testing outside one of Aurobindo’s production units in Polepally, about 80 km from Hyderabad, showed 70 percent of E.coli bacterial colonies in the samples were resistant to cephalosporin (Cefepime, Cefpodoxime, Ceftazidime, Ceftotaxime) fluroquinolones (Ciprofloxacin) and also carbapenem (Ertapenem), which is often used as last resort antibiotics to control infections.
The report also points to high levels of resistant bacteria in Hussainsagar located in the heart of Hyderabad, in a sewage treatment plant located in Amberpet where incidentally vaccine-derived polio virus was found twice this year, and in the Musi river at Edulabad, which is to the east of the city.
Researchers also tested samples collected from five locations in Chennai, two in Vishakhapatnam and two in New Delhi.
Out of these nine locations, testing at three locations - in the vicinity of Hetero Drugs in Rajiyapeta in Chennai, Orchid Chemicals Alathur in Vishakhapatnam and Asiatic Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, Bhiwadi in New Delhi, showed presence of resistant E.coli bacteria.
The report, Changing Markets, described the antibiotic supply chain, beginning with raw materials in China, and claimed resistance was being fuelled due to some production practices. The materials are then used in India for producing drugs for export to western markets. The report alleged that major pharma companies in the US had ties with companies in India and China which had allegedly flouted environmental norms.
Antibiotic resistance is a major health concern for hospitals in India. In Hyderabad, the case of 13 people losing vision after cataract surgeries earlier this year at the government-run Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital was attributed to infection due to drug-resistant Klebsiella bacteria.
While releasing the Changing Markets report, the European Public Health Alliance, an NGO alliance that receives funding from European Union, in its press note last Tuesday claimed that 10 millions lives could be lost by 2050 to drug-resistant infections with an accompanying economic losses totalling $ 100 trillion.
“The findings of our report and the initial reactions from British and German health authorities demonstrate that polluting practices of pharmaceutical factories in India are no longer going to be tolerated,” said Nusa Urbancic, Campaigns Director at Changing Markets. “In the light of the AMR threat, actions to address pollution from antibiotics manufacturing need to be taken immediately. These include blacklisting of polluting companies, more transparency on supply chains and greater technology transfers for cleaner production practices and ultimately inclusion of environmental criteria in Good Manufacturing Practices,” Ms. Urbancic added.
When comments on the Changing Markets report were elicited, pharma company representatives called it an effort of ‘vested interests in Europe’ and that they would take legal recourse to counter it.
“If our processes were leading to drug resistance, our employees would be first affected by it. The contents of the report are not scientifically proven,” said Jayant Tagore, Managing Director of Synthokem Labs, who also presides over Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association.
European agency also accuses Aurobindo, Hetero and Mylan of environmental pollution