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[NEW DELHI] To promote safe antibiotic production and combat antibiotic resistance, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) — a policy institute based in Stockholm, Sweden — has formed a collaborative multi-stakeholder platform in the Indian capital.    
 
Indiscriminate and irrational use of antibiotics is blamed for growing antibiotic resistance — a global problem that may cause the deaths of a projected ten million people annually by 2050. India is a major player in the global pharmaceutical business and is estimated to chalk up US$22 billion worth of drug exports during the year ending March according to the Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council of India, a state-run body.

“Our concern is that these elevated levels of resistance can transfer back to the human population”

Alistair B A Boxall, University of York

The new platform, launched on 11 February, is an important step to cut the risk of the pharmaceutical industry itself playing a part in the spread of antimicrobial resistance spreading through emissions from drug manufacturing facilities, says SIWI.
 
“We are establishing the platform to achieve a long-term collaboration between public procurers and the pioneers of the industry who share the objective of reducing the emissions of antibiotics from manufacturing,” SIWI programme manager Nicolai Schaaf tells SciDev.Net. “India is also among countries with the highest rates of antibiotic resistance,” he adds.  
 
“Both sides need to collaborate — for the industry to show how their products are manufactured in a more sustainable way, and for the procurers to provide incentives,” says Schaaf. “We will work with capacity building and technical pilots to showcase how the necessary emission reductions can be achieved.”
 
Schaaf suggests that concentrations of industrial effluents can be very high around antibiotic manufacturing facilities and can trigger resistance genes in microorganisms.
 
Alistair B A Boxall, a professor at the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography who has been monitoring antibiotics at over 1,000 locations in rivers across 105 countries, says: “We found antibiotics at around two-thirds of the sites. Some of the highest levels of pollution are seen at the sites that are close to manufacturing sites.”

Bacterial populations in the environment exposed to antibiotics will defend themselves and become resistant to these and other chemicals, Boxall tells Scidev.Net.  “Our concern is that these elevated levels of resistance can transfer back to the human population.” Neelam Taneja, a professor of medical microbiology at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, tells SciDev.Net that in developing countries, staggering amounts of antibiotics can get emitted from the antibiotic manufacturing units and the concentrations can reach as high as 1 milligram per litre.
 
“Most manufacturing units, of both antibiotics and active pharmaceutical ingredients, do not follow effluent norms and regulations,” says Amulya Nidhi, national co-convener of the People's Health Movement, India.
 
According to Schaaf, India will benefit by contributing to the global fight against antibiotic resistance by improving the readiness of Indian industry to adapt to the changing market requirements.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk

*This article was edited on 16 February 2020 to remove the quote misattributed to Amulya Nidhi.