Members in the Rajya Sabha suspected multi-national pharmaceutical and hospital companies of being behind British scientists' claims that an infectious superbug originating from Indian hospitals is spreading in the world.
"When India is emerging as a medical tourism destination, this type of news is unfortunate and may be a sinister design of multinational companies" to defame the Indian medical sector, S S Ahluwalia of the Bharatiya Janata Party said during Zero Hour.
Demanding a response from the government, he said some foreign tourists after returning from India reported some infection and attributed it to Indian hospitals. "It may not be true," he said. Ahluwalia, who was supported by Jayanthi Natarajan of Congress, said there should be a system of maintaining a registry for patients suffering from infectious diseases.
Natarajan said reports of superbug, attributable to India, is a "wrong propaganda against the country". Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Prithviraj Chavan said he would find out the facts from the Health Minister.
According to a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a hospital-acquired superbug which cannot be treated by the existing drugs is originating from India. Indian medical tourism industry which is making rapid progress revolves around providing treatment and surgeries to global patients at significantly lower costs. The sector has been estimated at Rs 1200 crore.
The Government today expressed surprise at scientists in the United Kingdom linking a new superbug resistant to antibiotics to India and said that it was drafting a reply to an alert issued by Britain in this regard. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a nodal agency under the Health Ministry, is meeting today and "we would soon draft a reply to this," Secretary, Health Research, V M Katoch told PTI. He said the ministry will examine the issue in detail but it was "unfortunate that this new bug, which is an environmental thing, has been attached to a particular country which is India in this case. I am surprised," he said, adding that, "this (the bug) is present in nature. It is a random event and cannot be transmitted".
Katoch said that he was surprised that a research paper linked it with India as they should know it was a biological phenomenon.
According to a paper published in scientific journal 'Lancet, the new superbug, which is said to be resistant even to most powerful antibiotics, has entered UK hospitals and is travelling with patients who had gone to countries like India and Pakistan for surgical treatments.
Bacteria that make an enzyme called NDM-1 or New Delhi-Metallo-1, have travelled back with NHS patients who went abroad to countries like India and Pakistan for treatments such as cosmetic surgery, it said. Although there have only been about 50 cases identified in the UK so far, scientists fear it will go global.
NDM-1 can exist inside different bacteria, like Ecoli, and it makes them resistant to one of the most powerful groups of antibiotics - carbapenems. These are generally reserved for use in emergencies and to combat hard-to-treat infections caused by other multi-resistant bacteria. At least one of the NDM-1 infections the researchers analysed was resistant to all known antibiotics.
Similar infections have been seen in the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands and international researchers say that NDM-1 could become a major global health problem. Infections have already been passed from patient to patient in UK hospitals.
Dr David Livermore, one of the researchers and who works for the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA), said, "There have been a number of small clusters within the UK, but far and away the greater number of cases appear to be associated with travel and hospital treatment in the Indian subcontinent". The Department of Health has already put out an alert on the issue, he said.