Public health in jeopardy

Foods, water, medicines, air injurious: studies

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 00:00, Jul 20,2019


Public health in Bangladesh has become highly vulnerable in the face of phenomenal rise in adulteration of foods, serious contamination of drinking water, substandard and date-expired medicines and air pollution.

Series of reports have almost routinely emerged recently on substandard and adulterated food items including everyday essentials, milk, water and fruits, substandard medicines and reckless use of antibiotics.

Besides, the residents of the capital have been at additional risks of dengue for quite some time.

The High Court has recently intervened into the issues and asked the government agencies concerned to take steps to remedy the situations.

Health minister Zahid Maleque, meanwhile, expressed concern over the contamination of foods, use of antibiotics in livestock, poultry birds and fisheries, high prevalence of substandard medicines, and environment pollution.

‘These are creating health hazards and causing heart ailments, kidney diseases and cancer,’ he told reporters on Wednesday after directing the deputy commissioners to monitor the situation, including sale of antibiotics, in the DCs’ conference.

The recent findings by a Dhaka University group of researchers raised alarm as they detected antibiotics and detergent in cow milk marketed by different companies including popular ones like Milk Vita, Aarong, Pran, Farm Fresh and Igloo.

Multiple antibiotic residues have been detected again in all the 10 samples of both pasteurised and non-pasteurised cow milk, including from the same brands, when retested at an interval.

The group of DU researchers which conducted the two tests at the university’s Biomedical Research Centre were nine teachers from the university’s faculty of pharmacy and was led by Professor ABM Faroque.

The research team published the retest results on July 13.

The researchers first came under media spotlight when they revealed their first test results in the last week of June, showing that both pasteurised and non-pasteurised cow milk contained not only antibiotic residues but also detergent and a high number of harmful bacteria.

Their previous work had put them under threat of facing legal action from the ministry of industry.

They also became victim of character assassination on social media by employees of the national food standard regulatory authority Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and businessmen.

On the other hand, the lab tests sponsored by the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority also found bacteria and lead in 11 brands of pasteurised milk supplied by government-run Milk Vita as well as  private brands Aarong, Farm Fresh, Aftab Milk, Igloo, Ultra Milk, Pran Milk, Ayran, Pura and Safe.

The High Court later ordered the BSTI to get tested the milk from four labs and ordered the government to take measures for stopping use of antibiotics in the livestock without prescription from veterinarians.

Noted medicine specialist Khan Abul Kalam Azad, who is also the principal of the Dhaka Medical College, said that consumption of antibiotics through milk would cause different health hazards to the consumers.

In the first place, he explained, taking antibiotics unnecessarily create negative health impact on the body and, secondly, when a person would need the antibiotics to recover from ailments, the antibiotics would not work as they would be resistant in the person because of the unnecessary use of them beforehand.

‘Intake of antibiotics via milk would render innocent people victim of health hazards unknowingly and unnecessarily,’ added the DMC principal.

The BSTI has recently tested 406 food products of different companies and found 93 of them substandard.

The products included oil, butter oil, chili powder, other spice powders, salt, biscuits and flour.

Though the High Court has issued an order to stop producing, marketing and selling of those products, they were found to be still on sale.

BIRDEM head of nutrition Shamsun Naher Mohua told New Age that adulterated foods are not foods at all.

‘Adulterated foods are not suitable for consumption while different chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics that remain in the foods are responsible for many health hazards,’ she said.

‘Formalin, carbide, pesticides, lead, mercury and other chemicals which are used in the adulterated and substandard foods cause simple diseases to serious health problems like indigestion, dysentery and kidney failure, liver and heart diseases and cancer,’ Shamsun Naher noted.

The outcry over unsafe water supplied by the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority recently prompted the High Court to intervene in the matter.

A new study report presented on Thursday by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development said that faecal coliform was found in four of the five underground household reservoirs where the DWASA supplies water through its pipelines to the residents of the capital.

Not only that, the study detected faecal coliform in one of the five pumping stations, covered under the research, of the government drinking water supply agency.

‘All five rooftop reservoirs and the four underground reservoirs included in the study contained total coliform,’ said Mohammad Sirajul Islam, BIGD programme manager.

Faecal coliform, a facultative anaerobic, rod-shaped, gram-negative, non-sporulating bacterium which generally originates in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, causes many health hazards including ear infections, dysentery, typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis and hepatitis.

Experts say that 80 per cent of all diseases and two-thirds of the deaths in developing countries like Bangladesh are attributed to consumption of poor-quality water.

Earlier in October last, the World Bank in a joint study report revealed that E. coli bacteria were present in 80 per cent of household tap-water across the country.

The joint study, conducted by the icddr,b, the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and the University of Dhaka, found total as well as faecal coliforms and E.coli bacteria at unacceptable levels in the eight samples of water supplied by the DWASA.

Country’s people these days are also in panic with regard to medicines as selling of date-expired medicines have recently been found to be rampant all over.

About 93 per cent pharmacies in Dhaka city were found to have kept expired drugs although it is completely prohibited, according to the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection.

The directorate, in between November 2018 and April 2019, conducted mobile courts at 200 pharmacies in different parts of the capital – including Gulshan, Mirpur, Kalabagan – and found expired drugs at about 186 stores.

The High Court on Thursday directed the Drug Administration to ensure that expiry dates were clearly written on the medicines.

The Drug Administration was also directed to run a countrywide campaign to sensitise people not to buy date-expired medicines.

At the HC hearing, the Drug Administration said that it had filed 152 cases and realised Tk 1.4 crore in fines from drug stores in one month for selling date-expired medicines.

Of late, concern over Dhaka city’s air quality has multiplied as a new alarming finding came in.

The capital of Bangladesh, home to some 15 million people by some estimates, has ranked the third-worst on the world Air Quality Index as its extreme air pollution makes Dhaka one of the most polluted cities.

According to AirVisual, which monitors global air quality, Dhaka’s air quality was classified as ‘unhealthy’.

As one of the most densely-populated countries in the world, Bangladesh has been struggling with air pollution for a long time. Dhaka continuously ranks among the world’s most polluted cities.

Experts are of the opinion that the concentration of suspended particles in the air of Dhaka city is many times higher than the normal even by Bangladeshi standard.

Doctors say that exposure to such particles can affect both lungs and heart.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University respiratory professor AKM Mosharraf Hossain told New Age that long-term exposure to particulate pollution can result in significant health problems including increased respiratory complications, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficult breathing, decreased lung function, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, allergic rhinitis, heart diseases and cancer.

He said that long-term exposure to particulate pollution causes scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs and damages lung tissues. The gene structure of lungs and the gene functions are also damaged due to long-term exposure to such air pollution.

To add to the misery of the capital’s citizens, mosquito-borne dengue has appeared to be a cause for concern.

The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research has recorded at least 3,461 people infected with dengue over the first 18 days of July alone.

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan and Dhaka north city mayor Atiqul Islam on Friday attended a rally to raise awareness about dengue.

Asaduzzaman said that the government would do everything necessary to control Aedes mosquitoes which were responsible for the spread of dengue.

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