Standing as the most densely populated city in the world, New Delhi has plenty of public health issues to deal with on a constant basis. But now health officials have some very urgent matters to deal with: new strains of super-bacteria, the most destructive of which contain the gene dubbed NDM-1 and are resistant to 15 widely used antibiotics.
According to The Atlantic, these super-resistant bacteria have been showing up not only in puddles around New Delhi but also the water supply. Thirteen per cent of these germs have the NDM-1 gene. Patients have been showing up at hospitals infected with the NDM-1 bug, and doctors have been able to do little to treat them. In the worst case scenarios for bacterial infections, a group of antibiotics called carbapenems are generally used. These NDM-1 bacteria are virtually impervious.
Because there’s no prescription law for anti-biotics in India, misuse has been widespread. The rich use them when they’re not needed, while the poor use whatever they can get in whatever quantity they can get (which generally means they’re not taking them for a proper length of time). As a result, bacteria have been able to get stronger and more potent by surviving and adapting.
And while living conditions and the state of health care in India are facilitating the spread of these bacteria, political and corporate motivations are preventing the implementation of any sort of fix to the problem. Officials and political figures, aside from organising advisory committees, have been denying the severity of the problem, claiming that outsiders are conspiring against their tourism industry. And pharmaceutical companies don’t see the financial benefit of developing drugs for non-Western countries.
There are few new drugs in development to treat the microbes that NDM-1 plagues. In Western hospitals, “gram-positive” bacteria, which are structurally vulnerable to antibiotics and disinfectants, tend to dominate. In hospitals in India and other tropical countries “gram-negative” bacteria, which are encased in tough outer membranes that can repel antibiotics and antiseptics, are more common. With most drug industry research and development focused on Western markets, “places like India will just have to wait for new drugs for gram-negatives” while the death toll from untreatable infections inevitably rises, says Public Health Foundation of India’s Ramanan Laxminarayan.
Very bleak indeed. [The Atlantic]