Exporting Cures, Importing Misery

The sickening impacts of India's pharmaceutical industry

| March 17, 2005


There is nothing healthy about the production of pharmaceuticals in India. In fact, it is harming the lives of people, plants, and animals in rural India and will sicken generations to come. The rural town of Patancheru, in the state of Andra Pradesh, was once a rural idyll. Now home to a third of India's pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, the area is a picture of ecological destruction that would make Dr. Seuss blush: bathing water leaves a mysterious rash on the skin; water buffaloes produce toxic milk; babies are born with far more birth defects than they were decades ago when the area was a pristine agricultural zone. The land no longer yields crops, leaving the locals to rely on government rations that typically run out before the month is over. Farmers are out of commission and their livestock are lucky to survive.

India exports $2.5 billion in pharmaceuticals each year, a figure that it is expected to climb as high as $6 billion by 2010. The United States obtains much of its antibiotic supply from India. Almost 40 percent of India's export supply is manufactured along a 20-mile stretch running through Patancheru. The end product: lots of prescription drugs ready for export and lots of hazardous byproducts poisoning all living things in their path.

Waste management laws have been tightened since the first manufacturing plant set up shop here in the 1970s. The World Health Organization has imposed strict international regulations for pharmaceutical corporations. Patancheru now has safe water piped in and the air is less polluted due to emission control standards in manufacturing plants. But much needs to be done to reverse the effects that decades of stealth midnight waste-dumping and careless chemical runoff leaked into the water table.

A local doctor, Allani Kishan Rao, who has been treating the area's victims for over 30 years, put his community's dire need into perspective by comparing the cause of Patancheru to the cause of the December tsunami. 'The West, now directly connected to Patancheru via the global pharmaceutical market, is in a position to help stop a disaster-in-progress.' With the potential to harm or kill as many people, Patancheru looms on the horizon waiting to be saved.
-- Marca Bradt



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