International

Fear And Loathing In India Over 'Superbug' Study

Indian officials are trotting out conspiracy theories to explain away a report in the respected British medical journal, The Lancet, that a drug-resistant "superbug" (an enzyme that infects bacteria, actually) had been picked up by medical tourists to the South Asian country.

The enzyme has been, at least from the Indian perspective, unhelpfully named after the country's capital: it's called New Delhi-Metallo-1, or NDM-1.

Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has asked publicly whether 'ulterior motives' were at work with the Lancet paper, noting that foreign pharmaceutical companies that produce antibiotics had provided some of the funding.

Bombay News.Net quoted Azad as saying:

It (superbug) is universal and is found in the intestine of humans and animals. It is wrong to say that it is found only in India and Pakistan. They say it was found in patients who visit India and Pakistan. The study nowhere mentions if the bacteria were found even before those persons visited India.

A prominent member of the main opposition Hindu-nationalist party, the BJP, echoed the implication that foreign pharmaceutical companies might be pulling the strings and expressed concern that it could hurt India's burgeoning medical tourism industry. The Hindustan Times quoted S.S. Ahluwalia saying:

It may be a sinister design of multinational companies around the world," he said, adding that with globalisation, it was not just populations that were migrating, but also virus [sic] and bacteria.

A bit more perspective in The Times of India story had the CEO of India's chain of Apollo Hospitals calling for "an approach that is more corrective than alarmist."

India, like Thailand, has become a medical tourism mecca, as foreigners flock there to get cheaper - and frequently better - medical care than in their home countries.

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