Urgent action is needed to change the way both doctors and consumers use antibiotics, to avoid a post-antibiotics era where these drugs no longer work at all, the World Health Organization (WHO) in China announced during the first ever World Antibiotic Awareness Week, from now through November 22.
“Antibiotics are a crucial part of modern medicine, but they have become victims of their own success. As a result of over-use and misuse of antibiotics by both doctors and patients, antibiotic resistance is a now a gravely serious global health problem – including here in China,” said Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO representative in China.
“Antibiotic resistance affects us all. It means infections which were once easily cured are becoming harder to treat, and common surgical procedures such as caesarian sections and appendix removals could become life-threatening due to the risk of untreatable infections,” Dr. Schwartländer explained.
Beyond the health system, the economic costs of antibiotic resistance are formidable – in China, one prediction estimates the loss of up to a million lives a year by 2050 – and if left unchecked, antibiotic resistance could wipe out up to 3.5 percent of global GDP by 2050.
In China, use of antibiotics is very high: over the past decade, more than half of outpatients in China have been prescribed antibiotics – far above the level recommended by WHO (less than 30 percent).
A new survey commissioned by the WHO for World Antibiotic Awareness Week also shows that public awareness in China about antibiotics and their use is low:
- 61 percent of survey respondents in China thought antibiotics were effective against colds and flu, despite the fact that antibiotics have no impact on viruses;
- 53 percent of survey respondents in China thought it was okay to stop once taking antibiotics once they felt better, rather than completing the prescribed course of treatment; and
- 35 percent of survey respondents in China thought antibiotics were effective against headaches, which is not the case.
China has taken important steps over the last few years to address antibiotic resistance: for instance, in 2011, the Chinese government launched a nationwide campaign to improve the use of antibiotics by health workers and institutions, which has led to significant reductions in rates of antibiotic prescriptions.
However, more needs to be done – both by health care professionals and patients.
“The WHO’s message for patients is this: don’t demand antibiotics from your doctor when you may not need them. Only take antibiotics when they are prescribed for you by a certified health professional. Always take the full course, even if you are feeling better. Never use leftover antibiotics, and never share your antibiotics with others,” said Dr Schwartländer.
“The magnitude of the problem of antibiotic resistance is enormous, and all of us have a role to play in addressing it. If everyone plays their part, we can ensure that these crucial drugs are still able to save lives in the years to come,” Dr Schwartländer concluded.
This post first appeared on thebeijinger.com on November 18, 2015.