India suppressing truth about superbug: Lancet

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2011, 00:00 AM IST

New Delhi: International health journal Lancet
has slammed the government for "suppressing" truth about the
presence of a drug-resistant bacteria in Delhi`s public water
system by "threatening" and "abusing" its own scientists.

It also dubbed as "unfortunate" the government`s denial of
presence of such bacteria.

"The research is entirely scientific. If you look at our
publication record for the last 10 years you will find that
discovering new and emerging mechanisms of resistance is what
we have been doing for 10 years," Mark Toleman, one of the
co-authors of the study which claimed to have found the
bacteria in the capital`s waters, told a news agency.

"You will also notice that we have done similar studies on
isolates from many different countries. Furthermore a
responsible response would be to empower Indian scientists
to do similar studies.

"Unfortunately the Indian government is in denial and
actively suppresses the truth by threatening and abusing their
own scientists," the author said.

Asked about a senior health ministry official`s claim that
the researchers transferred samples for the study illegally,
Tony Kirby, the magazine`s press officer said, "We broke no
Indian laws whatsoever."

The debate over naming the bacteria should not detract from
the importance of the findings in Walsh and colleagues` paper
and the implications that they might have for human health, he
said.

"We recognise that a discussion continues about the
appropriateness of naming microorganisms, enzymes, genes, and
their associated diseases with an identifier that some
observers may feel stigmatises a place or a people," he said.

The official said this "important and sensitive" issue was
being examined by editors and may be discussed.

"For now, naming is the responsibility of the authors of
the paper, and in the case of NDM-1 we are continuing to use a
name first published in 2008, two years before its previous
appearance in The Lancet Infectious Diseases," he said.

Toleman said the bacteria was named `New Delhi-beta
-lactamase` first in an American journal called Antibiotic
Agents and Chemotherapy in 2009 and the naming had nothing to
do with Lancet.

"In fact our original paper was rejected by Lancet.
Furthermore NDM-1 is the correct name and follows the naming
of most genes of this type. Others are named SPM-1 for Sao
Paulo metallo-b-lactamase, SIM for Seoul imipenemase in Korea,
VIM for Veronna imipenemase in Italy, GIM for Germany
imipenemase and DIM for Dutch imipenemas," he said.

The Indian government had come out strongly against a
report on the presence of a drug-resistant bacteria in the
public water system of the capital saying the motives behind
it were not "scientific" and the government will respond at an
appropriate forum.

"Just to keep the heat on a country or a region...is not
scientific motive for a study," Secretary, Department of
Health Research V M Katoch told reporters here.
"Enough is enough, scientifically we will respond to it
in an appropriate forum," Katoch, who is also the director of
Indian Council of Medical research, said.

India had earlier protested against the naming of the bug
after its capital, saying the research was not supported by
scientific data.

Director General of Health Services R K Srivastava said
that following the publication of the report in August last
year, the government had written to the editor of the Lancet
asking him to publish a letter refuting the theory, but the
magazine had refused to do so.

PTI