WITH the focus on Covid-19, many health issues, though otherwise recognised as serious medical problems, tend to be overlooked. One of the biggest health challenges in this respect are germs that become resistant to antibiotics. It is an issue that has given nightmares to health experts around the world. In Pakistan, too, doctors and health officials have raised the alarm over the increasing resistance to even broad-spectrum antibiotics. Recently, the CEO of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan warned that if the rampant practice of prescribing unnecessary antibiotics is not curbed, a superbug could emerge that would be virtually impossible to eliminate. He advised doctors to prescribe complete courses of antibiotics while also asking pharmacists to provide the entire course even if patients asked for a curtailed dose.

In 2016, a large number of cases of drug-resistant typhoid broke out in Sindh; the bacteria was later transmitted to other countries, prompting the World Health Organisation to raise the alarm and the US to issue a health advisory alert. The Sindh authorities responded in 2019 by launching a free vaccination campaign against XDR typhoid. Moreover, over the years, we have also witnessed the increasing incidence of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis in the country. According to the WHO, resistance to drugs is on the rise all over the world, but the rate of microbial resistance in Pakistan has accelerated due to poor sanitation and the unchecked and unnecessary prescription of antibiotics, among other factors. According to a 2020 Lancet study, drug-resistant strains of bacterial infections claim at least 700,000 lives per year around the world. This death rate is projected to rise to 10m patients per year by 2050 at an estimated cost of $100tr to the world economy. The solution to the problem, as advised by health experts, is to curtail the sale of antibiotics unless prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner. It might not be a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the bacteria outsmart us, making diseases untreatable in the future.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2021

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