Centuries ago, Indian princes would bathe in the cool Kazhipally lake in Medak.
Centuries ago, Indian princes would bathe in the cool Kazhipally lake in Medak. Now, even the poorest villagers here in India’s baking south point to the barren banks and frothy water and say they avoid going anywhere near it.
A short drive from the bustling tech hub of Hyderabad, Medak is the heart of India’s antibiotics manufacturing business: a district of about 2.5 million that has become one of the world’s largest suppliers of cheap drugs to most markets, including the US.
But community activists, researchers and some drug company employees say the presence of more than 300 drug firms, combined with lax oversight and inadequate water treatment, has left lakes and rivers laced with antibiotics, making this a giant Petri dish for anti-microbial resistance.
“Resistant bacteria are breeding here and will affect the whole world,” said Kishan Rao, a doctor and activist who has been working in Patancheru, a Medak industrial zone where many drug manufacturers have bases, for more than two decades.
Drugmakers in Medak, including Indian firms Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Aurobindo Pharma Ltd and Hetero Drugs Ltd, and U.S. giant Mylan Inc, say they comply with local environmental rules and do not discharge effluent into waterways.
National and local government are divided on the scale of the problem.
While the Central Pollution Control Board in New Delhi categorizes Medak’s Patancheru area as “critically polluted”, the state PCB says its own monitoring shows the situation has improved.
The rise of drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ is a growing threat to modern medicine, with the emergence in the past year of infections resistant to even last-resort antibiotics.
In the U.S. alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million serious infections and 23,000 deaths annually, according to health officials.
Thirteen leading drugmakers promised last week to clean up pollution from factories making antibiotics as part of a drive to fight the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, while UN member countries pledged for the first time to take steps to tackle the threat.