News / Asia

Concerns Mount Over India's Role In Incubating Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Female Hindu pilgrims take a dip at the confluence of the Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Island, India, January 13, 2012. (Reuters)Female Hindu pilgrims take a dip at the confluence of the Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Island, India, January 13, 2012. (Reuters)
Female Hindu pilgrims take a dip at the confluence of the Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Island, India, January 13, 2012. (Reuters)
Female Hindu pilgrims take a dip at the confluence of the Ganges river and the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Island, India, January 13, 2012. (Reuters)
Kurt Achin
Medical research is once again pointing to India as a dangerous crucible of bacterial strains that resist many forms of antibiotic treatment. Cheap, under-regulated antibiotics and a severe shortfall of sanitation infrastructure fuel the problem.

Medical experts warn India remains at the forefront of what the World Health Organization calls “the post-antibiotic era,” in which a wide range of infectious bacteria evolve past the ability of even potent medicines to treat them.

So-called “superbugs” contain a gene named NDM-1, which boosts the ability of bacteria to resist even powerful antibiotics. The ND stands for New Delhi, where it was found in a difficult-to-treat Swedish patient hospitalized in 2007 in the Indian capital. Four years later, a study in the British medical journal Lancet warned bacteria containing NDM was widespread not only in New Delhi hospitals, but also in the Indian capital's drinking supply and sewer systems.

K. Kumarasamy is a microbiologist in the Indian city of Chennai who specializes in drug-resistant pathogens. He says superbugs are coming to be found not only in hospitals but in outpatient clinics, and warns his country is becoming a breeding ground for drug-resistant germs.

"There are lot of evidences that it is one of the epicenters," said Kumarasamy.

When bacteria evolve to become drug resistant, even simple illnesses like dysentery can become nearly impossible to treat. Advanced procedures like surgery, which rely on antibiotics to control infection, become much more dangerous.

The problem here in India stems mainly from the fact that the market is flooded with cheap, mass-produced, and under-regulated antibiotics. Dr. Mark Toleman is a molecular geneticist at Britain's Cardiff University.

"Very powerful antibiotics are freely available by anybody off the street wanting to purchase [them]," said Toleman. "In many other nations in the world they are quite tight[ly] controlled. I think that's the main problem as regards the overuse of antibiotics."

Last year's Lancet study, co-authored by Toleman, came under sharp criticism over its methodology. Some Indian leaders accused Toleman and other researchers of deliberately trying to discredit India's emerging medical tourism industry. Toleman describes India as being in a state of denial.

"Even to be seen to be doing something constructive about the problem is obviously in India's best financial interest as well as just the general interest of her own population," he said. "So, it's very difficult for me to understand why the Indian government [is] trying to brush it, as it were, under the carpet."

Unsanitary conditions in India are blamed for creating an environment for superbugs - both in emerging megacities, and in rural locations where toilet infrastructure is nearly nonexistent.

Nitya Jacob, head of water issues at New Delhi's Center for Science and Environment, co-authored a recent study called “Excreta Matters.”

"India has a capacity to treat only about a fifth of its sewage and I think about 40 percent of that capacity is concentrated in just two cities of Delhi and Bombay," said Jacob.

Superbug researcher Kumarasamy says the Indian government needs to act urgently to prevent the spread of drug-resistant diseases.

"First of all, the banning of self-medication," said Kumarasamy. "Proper antibiotic control. Next, they have to initiate [an] antibiotic surveillance network all over India."

The World Health Organization describes antibiotic resistance as “one of the biggest health scares to the world”. The United Nations agency estimates about 150,000 people die annually from drug resistant tuberculosis alone.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs