Today’s Talk on Editorials November 18, 2017- Civils360
The superbugs of Hyderabad- The Hindu
Antibiotic resistance is arguably the biggest threat to global health in the 21st century. In 2014, around 700,000 people across the world died due to infections that evaded antibiotics, a number that is estimated to touch 10 million by 2050.
A big driver of resistance is the overuse of these drugs. When people take antibiotics they don’t need, for a viral flu, for instance, the bacteria in their body learn to tolerate these drugs by acquiring resistance genes. But resistance genes don’t come out of nowhere — some of them have existed for decades in soil and water, helping environmental bacteria fight natural antibiotics.
Studies in Hyderabad’s pharmaceutical cluster now show that the large doses of man-made antibiotics in pollution hotspots like Kazipally force these environmental bacteria to evolve by boosting the numbers of resistance genes. When human pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus (which causes skin and respiratory infections), mix with these environmental bacteria, they borrow these genes freely, making them potential killers.
During interviews with The Hindu , industry officials argued that pollution from pharma companies was a thing of the past. Since 2006, when Larsson’s group began its work, much has changed in the Hyderabad cluster. Around 86 of the 220 bulk drug makers in Hyderabad today have zero liquid discharge facilities, which means that they recycle all the liquid effluent. The only waste they generate is solid, which is incinerated or buried in landfills.
Zero liquid discharge is good, but not a panacea for pollution.The seepage of contaminated water from drug manufacturers is common during rains. Such seepage could be why pollution persists in ponds and lakes, despite the upgrades of the last decade.
If seepages still plague the pharma industry, so does the illegal dumping of effluents. Companies without zero liquid discharge, which are required to ship their effluent to common treatment plants like the PETL(Patancheru Enviro Tech Limited ), don’t always toe the line. One reason is that they are hoping to cut costs. It costs around Rs. 7,000 to treat a 10 kilolitre tank of effluent with low levels of dissolved solids at PETL.
The Musi originates west of Hyderabad in the Anantagiri hills, cuts across the city and joins the river Krishna before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. From a river that inundated great parts of Hyderabad city in a major flood in 1908, the Musi has turned into a drain today. The Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar dams that were constructed to prevent a recurrence of a 1908-like event have tamed its flow to a trickle, meaning that the river consists almost entirely of sewage.It is to this river that a pipeline brings treated discharge from PETL today.
PETL and other common effluent treatment plants are still pumping out large amounts of antibiotics because the levels in the Amberpet inlet cannot be explained by domestic sewage.What’s also evident is that companies are dumping effluent illegally into the Musi, which explains the levels at Musarambagh.
Even as evidence of antibiotic pollution builds up, government regulations are taking time to catch up with it. As of today, India does not limit antibiotics in pharma waste water .Few countries do. India’s first concrete move to tackle the problem was the 2017 National Action Plan for Antimicrobial Resistance, which talks about imposing limits on antibiotics in industrial waste. But a member of the Central Pollution Control Board, tasked with deciding on these limits, told The Hindu that these regulations are at least three years away.
What India needs to keep in mind, though, is that the cost of antibiotic resistance will be enormous for both the country and the world. One estimate puts the expense of treating a resistant bloodstream infection at Rs. 42,000 more than a susceptible infection. This could devastate thehealth-care system,which today takes antibiotics for granted. In contrast, the cost of better pollution-control isn’t that high. Even companies in Hyderabad admit that complying with pollution norms doesn’t need more than 3-4% of the production cost.