Governments and industry must collaborate to protect the environment - Hindustan Times
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Governments and industry must collaborate to protect the environment

ByHindustan Times
Jun 05, 2022 09:49 AM IST

The article has been authored by Valerio di Caprio, global franchise director – SSP and PEN, Centrient Pharmaceuticals.

The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UN FCCC) came into effect in 1994. It was the first global action to protect the environment from the adverse impact of human activities. However, given the deterioration of the environment over the years, the clamour to safeguard the environment has never been stronger. The recently held 26th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) underlined the urgency to limit the average global temperature rise to below 2 degrees by phasing down the use of fossil fuels, financially supporting the mitigation of climate change in developing countries and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, among others. These aspirations mandate that governments and industries work complementarily.

The recently held 26th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) underlined the urgency to limit the average global temperature rise to below 2 degrees by phasing down the use of fossil fuels, financially supporting the mitigation of climate change in developing countries and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, among others.
The recently held 26th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) underlined the urgency to limit the average global temperature rise to below 2 degrees by phasing down the use of fossil fuels, financially supporting the mitigation of climate change in developing countries and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, among others.

The pharmaceutical sector has played a critical role in the global development story. The speedy invention of vaccines for Covid-19 is a case in point of how the industry has bettered human health by inventing life-saving products and therapeutics. However, the global pharmaceutical industry also has a pivotal role in mitigating climate change and protecting the environment. A recent study concluded that the carbon emission intensity of the pharmaceutical sector is 55% more than the automotive sector. Apart from transitioning to greener and transparent supply chains that bring down the sector’s emission intensity, the pharma industry must also protect the environment by moving to responsible drug manufacturing practices.

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The release of untreated sewage, discharge of heavy metals and chemicals from industries have dominated the narratives on river pollution. However, when untreated pharmaceutical effluents are released into the environment, it adds to the degradation of rivers. There is also an inextricable linkage between rivers, the environment, and public health. When untreated pharmaceutical effluents laden with antibiotic residues mix with river waters, they tend to speed up the process of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Even though studies indicate that residues from pharmaceutical manufacturing play a limited part in increasing AMR, given the global spread of the pharmaceutical sector, unregulated manufacturing can enable hotspots of AMR. Apart from the release of pharmaceutical effluents, AMR is also driven by the overuse of antimicrobials like antibiotics in humans and the misuse of antibiotics in livestock and agriculture. Already recognised as one of the top 10 global public health threats by the World Health Organization (WHO), a persistent uptick in AMR would have pandemic-like consequences on the global economy and society. In 2019, over one million lives were lost directly because of AMR, according to a study published by the Lancet.

While there have already been promising developments, the pharmaceutical industry must commit to a cleaner environment through self-regulation. To address the public health and environmental issue of the presence of antibiotic residues in the wastewaters, some companies, have adopted the Common Antibiotic Manufacturing Framework (CAMF). The CAMF supports AMR mitigation as it prescribes safe discharge values for antibiotics, implying that if an antibiotic meets the safe discharge levels, it is unlikely to promote AMR. Ever since 2016, companies like Centrient Pharmaceuticals have been on a quest to limit antibiotic residues in wastewater. In 2022, the company achieved another milestone in this journey as its oral antibiotics’ product range meets the safe discharge values.

Especially in countries with lax regulations around monitoring and surveillance of pharmaceutical effluents, such interventions are the need of the hour. A recent study that investigated the water samples from 258 rivers in 104 countries across all continents concluded that pharmaceutical contaminations were highest in rivers from Africa and Asia. In India, globally the third-largest pharmaceutical sector by volume, the recent findings of high antibiotic concentrations in the waters of the Sirsa river near a pharmaceutical manufacturing hub have reinvigorated the debate on stringent regulations governing antibiotic discharge.

Unsustainable human activities since the 19th century have put the earth’s environment at risk. With average global temperatures increasing by 1 degree, it is imperative that governments and industries play an equal role in protecting the environment. While a conducive business environment is necessary for growth, policies must also enable pathways for protecting the environment. At the same time, actors within the industry should also exhibit commitment to the cause. Through the safe discharge targets for antibiotic manufacturing, some prominent players in the pharmaceutical sector have already set an example. However, such measures need a global and national buy-in within the industry and government if a dent must be made in curtailing the degradation of the environment from antibiotic manufacturing and preventing the public health crisis of AMR.

(The article has been authored by Valerio di Caprio, global franchise director – SSP and PEN, Centrient Pharmaceuticals.)

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