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The Real Price of Cheap Medicines: CMS VATAVARAN 2019 Nomination Series ​

The negative impact of the production of pharmaceutical products on the natural environment is well known.

However, this remains largely unregulated, meaning the extremely toxic impact it has on both animals and humans continues with no clear end in sight.

Over the past 30 years, international organizations and the pharmaceutical industry have begun to notice that the detrimental impact pharma products have on the environment on a global scale.

Pharmaceutical products enter the environment at various stages of their life-cycle, but particularly during the production phase.

One of the main threats is that discharging antibiotics into the environment can promote the natural development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that are harder to treat.

Although it is a global issue, like other environmental issues, pharma pollution more directly and seriously affects those living near production plants whose water and food sources are contaminated with waste pharma products.

Off-lately a lot of films and print articles have been produced to raise awareness of the negative relationship between pharma and the environment and to challenge the healthcare industry to clean up its production.

In places like India the production of both active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finished dose antibiotics is concentrated in specific locations so the resulting point, source pollution, is in incredibly high concentrations and encourages the development of drug resistance.

This practice has a detrimental impact on vulnerable populations living near manufacturing facilities and wastewater treatment plants in these countries.

The pollution of pharma products into the environment also adversely affects animals, particularly fish living in contaminated water.

This awareness has led to a number of initiatives to try to better understand the consequences of pharma production on the environment and how this can be mitigated.

This moves focus away from the fact that pharmaceutical companies should be cleaning up their own production and supply chains and investing in biodegradable pharmaceuticals.

However, despite recognition of the destructive impact the pharma industry has on the environment, the US Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency have not moved to include environmental standards in their good manufacturing practices guidelines.

In addition, there is a lack of legislation and regulation on a local, regional and global level focusing on reducing the negative impact of the pharmaceutical industry on the environment; for example, there is no legislation requiring pharma companies to report environmental incidents.

Indeed, there is a crying lack of transparency about pharmaceutical supply chains which means that we know practically nothing about where our drugs are made. This is a scandal and pharmaceutical companies will face increasing calls to do something about it.

One of the ways to tackle this could be to leverage health professionals’ leadership role in tackling this issue.

However, there is a long way to go and environmental breaches continue to occur across the world.

Director: Jos Van Dongen

Photograph Courtesy-

Jos Van Dongen


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