Last week the European Commission also published a roadmap acknowledging the release of antimicrobial ingredients into the environment during manufacture “may pose a risk.” It promised it would explore how to address the challenge in 2018, but fell short of committing to actual policy.
The UK government promised to take action on pollution in NHS supply chains following a previous Bureau report last October, but could not comment on whether this had been followed up due to purdah rules prohibiting any policy announcements in the run-up to an election.
And WHO, along with sister UN agencies, signed a “Statement of Intent” last December aimed at “advancing environmental and socially responsible procurement” of their health products. Just this week, WHO director-general Margaret Chan warned the world was moving towards a “post-antibiotic era” and called once again for concerted global action. She listed actions which were urgently needed, including cutting antibiotic prescriptions, developing new drugs, and coordinated government policies around the world. She did not mention pharmaceutical pollution.
The European Public Health Alliance, an umbrella group for more than 90 non-profit organisations, lambasted the failure of international regulators to do anything about the “rife” pollution which was a “clear cause” of AMR.
“This glaring omission must be rectified by including legally binding environmental standards in GMP protocols, particularly with regard to contamination with antimicrobial substances - as a condition for authorisation and import of drugs,” said a spokesperson. “Voluntary agreements are not enough to stop a race to the bottom, where pharmaceutical companies exploit weak links in global supply chains, in places where there is little or no enforcement of vital environmental standards.”
Tighter regulations on pollution must be introduced, said Dr Yohei Doi, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and it was up to international buyers of drugs such as the FDA to make this happen. “It’s the buyers in the US that pay for these things,” he said. “As long as people buy these drugs, the companies will keep making them in this way.”
The documentary by NDR, WDR and SZ called “The Invisible Enemy – Deadly Superbugs from Pharma Factories”, will air on May 8th at 10:45 pm on the channel ARD. An English version will appear on the channel’s YouTube feed.
Follow the Bureau's antibiotic resistance updates on Twitter:@TBIJAntibiotics
Main image and second image of pollution in Hyderabad by Christian Baars (NDR)
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