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Scientists blame pollution for resistance to antibiotics

Wednesday December 6 2017

Raw sewage emptying from a tunnel into Nairobi River

Raw sewage emptying from a tunnel into Nairobi River on December 5, 2017, causing water pollution in the river that runs across downtown Nairobi. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Global researchers have linked the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance to rampant environmental pollution.

The scientists noted that discharge of drugs and particular chemicals into the environment was among the most worrying health threats the world over.

They were speaking on Tuesday during the launch of a new report at United Nations Environment headquarters in Nairobi.

 UN Environment chief Erik Solheim said there are a number of studies that have linked the misuse of antibiotics in humans and agriculture over the past several decades to increasing resistance, yet the role of the environment and pollution has received little attention. 

“This needs priority action right now or else we run the risk of allowing resistance to occur through the back door, with potentially terrifying consequences,” Mr Solheim said during a press briefing.



Globally, about 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year because available antimicrobial drugs have become less effective at killing the resistant pathogens.

The Frontier report 2017 pointed out that the release into the environment of antimicrobial compounds in effluent from households, hospitals and pharmaceutical facilities, and in agricultural run-off, was driving bacterial evolution and the emergence of more resistant strains. 

Wastewater treatment facilities cannot remove all antibiotics and resistant bacteria, and in fact may be hotspots for antimicrobial resistance. “Our soils and water are contaminated by antibiotics and chemicals, therefore tackling environmental pollution is critical to addressing resistance to antibiotics,” Dr Martin Kappele explained. 

Solving the problem will mean tackling the use and disposal of antibiotic pharmaceuticals as well as the release of antimicrobial drugs, relevant contaminants and resistant bacteria into the environment, the report says.

Dr Tabitha Kimani, a Food and Agriculture Organisation-Kenya official, reckoned that use of less antibiotics on livestock and management of animal waste will help reduce microbial resistance.