An article in the New York Times, Dec 3rd looks at the problem of antibiotic resistance in India. A study has shown that, more than 58,000 infants died last year as a result bacterial infections that are resistant to most known antibiotics. While that is still a fraction of the nearly 800,000 newborns who die annually in India, Indian paediatricians say that the rising toll of resistant infections threatens efforts to improve India’s infant death rate. Nearly a third of the world’s newborn deaths occur in India. Doctor say “Five years ago, we almost never saw these kinds of infections,” “Now, close to 100 percent of the babies referred to us have multidrug resistant infections”
The evidence is now overwhelming that a significant share of the bacteria present in India — in its water, sewage, animals, soil and even its mothers — are immune to nearly all antibiotics. A recent study found that Indian children living in places where people are less likely to use a toilet tend to get diarrhea and be given antibiotics more often than those in places with more toilet use. Doctors say “In the absence of better sanitation and hygiene, we are forced to rely heavily on antibiotics to reduce infections,”
Besides being desperately crowded, many hospitals are unhygienic. A Unicef survey of 94 district hospitals and health centers in Rajasthan last year found that 70 percent had possibly contaminated water and 78 percent had no soap available at hand-washing sinks, while 67 percent of toilets were unsanitary. One doctor said “In Haryana, for instance, almost every baby born in hospitals in recent years was injected with antibiotics whether they showed signs of illness or not”. All those drugs create resistant bacteria that find their way into hospital sewage, which is mostly dumped untreated into rivers, canals and pits in the surrounding community.
While far from alone in creating antibiotic resistance, India’s resistant infections have begun to migrate elsewhere in the world. “superbugs” carrying a genetic code first identified in India — NDM1 (New Delhi metallo-beta lactamase 1) are now found in many countries including in France, Japan, Oman and the United States.