Why Big Pharma needs to go Green ?

Who would suspect that the rescuer of Billions is an executioner as well?

We all use medicines to treat both minor and serious diseases. The invention of antibiotic medicines and vaccines has significantly extended the average human life span and has improved the quality of life for billions around the world.  The rapid improvement of human health due to the pharmaceutical revolution of the 1960s and 1970s often distracts us from the potential harms posed by this industry in the name of saving human life. 

Parmarmaceutical organizations appear to offer the humankind an extremely valuable favor, however everything has a price tag and the price of these medicinal cures are the rivers of our planet where companies throw untreated waste into the environment.

In India and China, where a large proportion of active pharmaceutical ingredients such as antibiotics are produced with poor manufacturing practice. This means that the pharmaceutical plants discharge untreated wastewater into soils and rivers which is causing the spread of antimicrobial resistance, which cause bacteria to develop immunity to antibiotics, creating superbugs. 

Superbugs are the villain bacteria that we see in movies, a bacteria that are resistant to the majority of antibiotics commonly used today. Resistant bacteria that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections are just a few of the dangers we now face. By 2050, the total death toll worldwide as the result of contracting an infection that proves resistant to treatment is expected to reach  10 million people.

It seems that we no longer face the danger of the extinction of animals because of water pollution, or even the death of millions of people, but we are talking about the end of humanity. As UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told a general assembly meeting. Failure to address the problem, he said, would make it “difficult if not impossible” to provide universal health care, “and it will put the sustainable development goals in jeopardy”. 

For instance, the overwhelming quantities of toxic metals and chemicals entering water force fish to work harder to remove contaminants from their body, burning vital energy in the process, making them more vulnerable to predation, as well as membrane malformations and reproductive difficulties of male fish caused by female birth control pills. As for humans, water contamination and fish extinction in only the beginning … 

Responding to this alarming treat pharma companies set up the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI) to demand better social and environmental conditions in the communities from where drugs are supplied. However,  only 12% of the 140 largest global pharmaceutical companies are members of PSCI according to sector analysts. It is imperative that these corporations are held accountable. 

Voluntary corporate initiatives are necessary but by no means sufficient to address the industry challenge of environmental pollution. Given that only a minority of companies participate in the scheme, we must reform government policies and law enforcement to enforce measures to protect our precious water supplies. For example, the Indian Government suggests that they are not taking action to combat the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the pollution. Rather they are lifting restrictions on industrial plant expansion.

We hope that the example of the UK, France, Sweden, and Germany, where governments are being encouraged to build environmental criteria into contractual agreements with pharmaceutical suppliers and manufacturers, force the hand of other governments.

We must also consider that individuals can take action by returning unused medicines to the pharmacy instead of pouring remaining contents down the sink or toilet and further contaminating the water supply. Green Pharmacy Campaigns alongside wide sweeping regulatory changes at the industry level are needed to protect our drinking water.

For further details please reference to the speech delivered by Ms Oksana Pyzik Women for Water Forum:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlLULkYsSpU

Reviewed by Oksana Pyzik (Lecturer UCL, M.S Pharmacy, B.Sc Biochemistry)

The Guardian (2016): Antibiotic waste is polluting India and China's rivers; big pharma must act [online]
 Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/oct/25/antibiotic-waste-pollution-india-china-rivers-big-pharma-superbugs-resistance

 Technology Networks (2018): Types of Pollution: Have You Considered Pharmaceutical Waste? [online]
 Available at: https://www.technologynetworks.com/applied-sciences/articles/types-of-pollution-have-you-considered-pharmaceutical-waste-297177

ABC (2012): What are superbugs? [online]
 Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2012/11/15/3633296.htm

Mayoclinic (2018): What are superbugs and how can I protect myself from infection? [online]
 Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infectious-diseases/expert-answers/superbugs/faq-20129283