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Antibiotics in water: an emerging challenge

  • Antibiotics in water: an emerging challenge
    Photo: UN Environment

About the blog

Analytical Technology (ATi)

Indiscriminate use of antibiotics creates a major problem: bacterial resistance.

So what’s that got to do with water?

Growth of suburban neighborhoods in developing nations ends up concentrating many people within a limited space.

Of course such a scenario has it’s advantages such as a ready market for consumer products.

However due to lack of adequate sanitation, practices such as open defection lead to the accumulation of several pollutants in the environment.


Tough conditions in informal settlements create just the right circumstances for infectious, airborne and waterborne diseases to strike.

When such diseases emerge among economically disadvantaged people many of them resort to easily accessible over-the-counter drugs for self medication.

The problem with self medication is it’s trial and error nature leading to over usage of drugs such as antibiotics over time.

This not only lays ground for bacterial resistance among drug users but exposure of entire communities to antibiotic contaminated water.

Antibiotics in water

Lack of toilets in informal settlements creates just the right conditions for water ways to be contaminated with human waste some of which contains drug metabolites.

Since these communities depend on such water sources for sustenance, many end up drinking contaminated water.

Over time, this not only creates a bacterial resistance problem but defeats the use of antibiotics.

So what opportunities exist to tackle antibiotic pollutants in water?


Importance of toilets and latrines cannot be over-emphasized in this regard.

Several Community Based Organizations and innovators have plugged into this space especially in meeting the needs of the poorest of the poor.

But there’s room for more players and innovators and social enterprises such as Sanergy Ltd. are leading the way.

Water treatment & healthcare

Since water treatment services mainly target conventional pollutants such as microorganisms and metals, there’s a need for more players knowledgeable in pharmaceuticals to innovate water filters that could target drug metabolites.

This should be coupled with civic education to sensitize communities on responsible use of drugs and the importance of visiting a doctor.

The government (both local and national) also have a role to play in making healthcare accessible to all.

In conclusion

Antibiotic pollution of our water sources is a major challenge requiring innovative and insightful ways of tackling it.

But like any problem, it creates opportunities.

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