Curbing antibiotic overuse

March 30, 2018

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FOR decades, scientists have warned of growing antibiotic resistance because of the misuse of drugs. Recently, the authors of a new study on antibiotic consumption, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, criticised the global response to this public health crisis as “slow and inadequate”. The study warns of the serious danger of drug-resistant infections. Based on sales data from 76 countries, the study found that antibiotic use had increased by 65pc between 2000 and 2015 — that’s a whopping 42bn doses annually. In Pakistan, antibiotic consumption, too, rose by the same figure in this period; in China, the increase was 79pc; in India, drug usage more than doubled to 103pc. When the burden of disease is increasing and antibiotic misuse rocketing, the need for urgent action cannot be more apparent. Thwarting a public health crisis in vulnerable low-income countries requires a multifaceted response, including infection prevention and control. Radical policies to reduce antibiotic overuse are needed. Investment in clean water, sanitation and vaccinations could prevent infections from occurring in the first place. If a superbug develops in a patient with no access to a toilet connected to a sewage treatment plant, for instance, it is likely to spread into the local water supply.

The reality is that antibiotics handed out for viral infections are ineffective and unnecessary. True, it is challenging to restrain doctors prescribing antibiotics on symptoms alone. However, tighter controls on drug prescription and diagnostic tests are recommended. Generating awareness about the risks of self-medicating and inappropriate antibiotic prescription requires concerted advocacy campaigns by the health ministry. One tested method is to ensure the availability of vaccines for viral flu and diarrhoeal infection to curb antibiotic misuse. Because our healthcare system is simply appalling, it would be a shame if the government failed to muster all its tools to reverse the tide of antibiotic misuse that threatens to unleash drug-resistant infections.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2018