Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Delhi superbug a symptom of India’s ills

From objecting to biological samples in the form of “swabs of seepage water and tap water” being smuggled out of the country “on the sly” by British scientists, to calling the resultant Lancet report a western plot to kill India’s potentially $2.3 billion medical tourism industry, New Delhi’s defensive rhetoric appears misplaced as cases of poor health standards surface each day in India’s capital city.

A study, published last August in The Lancet Infectious Diseases citing the drug resistant NDM-1 bug that had evolved in India, and named after New Delhi, raised global concerns when the World Health Organisation endorsed the report.

Since its release, the Indian health establishment has downplayed its findings, and alleged a conflict of interest over the report’s funding.

However, despite its public misgivings, India has begun drafting a policy to regulate the use of antibiotics to prevent bugs from becoming resistant to drugs and recommending a ban on non-therapeutic usage of antibiotics in animals and farms to curb the spread of NDM-1 like bacteria in humans.

Even as India’s finance minister showered a 20 percent hike in the annual health budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, the country’s 2 percent of GDP spending on health is paltry compared with the 9-11 percent of GDP spent by European countries.

The government is pushing for increased surveillance and chlorination of drinking water in response to the NDM-1 threat, but India’s creaking health care systems still appear distinctly unable to properly service its 1.21 billion population.

About 20- 50 percent of all antibiotic use in India is inappropriate, the policy being drawn up by the country’s Ministry of Health says.

In Asia’s third-largest economy, despite huge economic advancement, poor sanitation levels, contamination of water supplies, and a severe lack of medical infrastructure has fuelled the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

For example, India accounts for one-fifth of the world’s tuberculosis cases, with two Indians dying of the disease every three minutes. Resistance to antibiotics is a major issue cited by authorities as a barrier to treating the disease, The Hindu reported.

Even if the merit of the Lancet report is questioned, can New Delhi survive the impending health care issues of its growing population?


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