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Among 2020’s Most Underreported Stories: Pharmaceutical Profiteering May Accelerate Superbugs

Since 1976 “Project Censored,” a U.S.-based nonprofit media watchdog organization, has been identifying “the news that didn’t make the news,” the most significant stories it believes are being systematically overlooked. Slashdot ran stories about its annual list of the year’s most censored news stories in 1999, 2003, 2004, and in 2007, when they’d presciently warned that the media was ignoring the issue of net neutrality.

But their latest list of underreported stories includes this disturbing headline: “Antibiotic Abuse: Pharmaceutical Profiteering Accelerates Superbugs.”

Pharmaceutical giants Abbott and Sun Pharma are providing dangerous amounts of antibiotics to unlicensed doctors in India and incentivizing them to overprescribe. In August 2019 the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) reported that these unethical business practices are leading to a rise in superbugs, or bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotic treatment. Bacteria naturally evolve a resistance to antibiotics over time, but the widespread and inappropriate use of antibiotics accelerates this process. Superbugs are killing at least 58,000 babies each year and rendering a growing number of patients untreatable with all available drugs.

India’s unlicensed medical practitioners, known as “quack” doctors, are being courted by Abbott and Sun Pharma, billion-dollar companies that do business in more than one hundred countries, including the United States. The incentives these companies provide to quack doctors to sell antibiotics have included free medical equipment, gift cards, televisions, travel, and cash, earning some doctors nearly a quarter of their salary. “Sales representatives would also offer extra pills or money as an incentive to buy more antibiotics, encouraging potentially dangerous overprescription,” a Sun Pharma sales representative revealed to an undercover BIJ reporter… [P]atients without access to better care often turn to quack doctors for treatment, and many are unaware that their local medical “professionals” have no formal training and are being bribed to sell unnecessary antibiotics.

In September 2019, the BIJ reported on similar problems with broken healthcare systems, medical corruption, and dangerous superbugs in Cambodia. Their account describes how patients often request antibiotics for common colds, to pour onto wounds, and to feed to animals. Illegally practicing doctors and pharmacists in Cambodia admitted that they would often prescribe based on customer requests rather than appropriate medical guidelines. As the BIJ noted, “This kind of misuse speeds up the creation of drug resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which are predicted to kill 10 million people by 2050 if no action is taken….”

Although superbugs have attracted some attention, their cause and importance remain poorly understood by the public. The Independent and BuzzFlash republished the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s report; otherwise, the role of pharmaceutical companies in the rise of dangerous superbugs has been drastically underreported.

The site’s list of the top 25 censored stories of 2019 – 2020 also includes:

Growing interest in so-called “public” banks, “not legally obligated to maximize profits, as private banks are; instead, public banks are mandated to serve their communities.”
How rising sea levels and warmer waters will impact nuclear power plants, “posing increased risks of nuclear disasters.”
Proposals to revitalize journalism through public funding.
How the U.S. military represents “a massive, hidden contributor to the climate crisis.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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