Rivers around the world contain dangerous levels of antibiotics

A new study has found the highest levels in Kenya, Ghana and Bangladesh
The growing resistance to antibiotics - caused by the over-subscription of certain drugs - is considered a global health emergency by the United Nations.  

Now scientists believe the situation is being made worse by high levels of antibiotics that have been recorded in rivers around the world. In the worst cases - found in countries including Bangladesh, Ghana and Kenya - levels were hundreds of times higher than the levels deemed safe. 

Alistair Boxall from the University of York lead the research and explains how antibiotics are finding their way into watercourses.

(Photo: A section of the Nairobi River, Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Getty Images)
Petri dish with bacteria

Conor Macauley

BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

It aims to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance, where superbugs become immune to the drugs.

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How did we mess up antibiotics?

Investigating global developments, issues and affairs.
Warnings about the approaching post-antibiotics apocalypse have been sounding for years. There are now strains of deadly bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics. This means that doctors are faced with patients who have completely untreatable infections. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are dying due to antibiotic resistance - and this number is set to rise rapidly. If we carry on like this, scientists predict we will return to a pre-antibiotic era, where organ transplants, chemotherapy and C-sections are impossible.

We have come a long way since 1928, when the famous chance discovery of penicillin led to a golden age in which antibiotics were seen as wonder drugs, heralding in an age of huge medical advances and increased human life spans. But by the 1990s we were running out of new antibiotics and infections were again a killer. How did this happen?

Our expert witnesses are medic and historian, Dr Eric Sidebottom, Dr Scott Podolsky of Harvard Medical School, journalist Maryn McKenna and infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg.

Presenter:  Helena Merriman
Producer:  Lucy Proctor and Laura Gray

This programme was first broadcast on the BBC World Service.  To hear more episodes search for The Inquiry podcast in BBC Sounds.
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In Malawi, doctors say resistance to antibiotics is making their work increasingly difficult.