Antibiotic overuse is a global problem. In India, however, researchers have found that the most susceptible to resistant strains of bacteria are the country's babies, born with infections and helplessly succumbing to superbugs.
Close to 800,000 babies die every year in India. According to a study, over 58,000 met their end in 2013 due to bacterial infections that most antibiotics can no longer treat. It's a small portion of the overall infant fatality rate but thousands of infants dying spotlights a problem in India that the rest of the world should pay attention to as well.
"Reducing newborn deaths in India is one of the most important public health priorities in the world, and this will require treating an increasing number of neonates who have sepsis and pneumonia," said Dr. Vinod Paul, All India Institute of Medical Sciences pediatrics chief and the study's lead author.
Paul also warned that if resistant infections are not curbed, all the progress that has been achieved through the years in health care would not only slow down or stop, it may even be reversed entirely. If that happens, not only India would be facing a crisis but the whole world as well.
In fact, it might happen sooner than later given superbugs with genetic codes identified first in India, the NDM1 (New Delhi metallo-beta lactamase 1), have already been found around the globe, including the United States, Japan, France and Oman.
Everyone is at risk with resistant infections but newborn babies are in particular danger because their immune systems have not yet developed well enough to fight off superbugs, strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Unfortunately, bacteria spread quickly in India because half of the population does not have proper toilets while the other half that generates sewage is mostly untreated. This gives the country the highest number of bacterial infections in the world, which in turn makes Indians consume more antibiotics than any other nationality.
"The result is that we are losing these drugs, and our newborns are already facing the consequences of untreatable sepsis," said Ramanan Laxminarayan, research and policy vice president for the Public Health Foundation of India.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year estimated that two million people get sick annually due to resistant bacteria, resulting in 23,000 deaths on average. Government efforts are in place, not just in the U.S., to reduce improper antibiotic use, leading to a drop in inappropriate prescriptions between 2000 and 2010.