Killer effect

Misuse and overuse of antibiotic drugs have created a major problem of anti-microbial resistance all over the world. India is specially vulnerable because of the widespread practice of indiscriminate drug prescriptions, bad hygienic conditions and low medical literacy.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had appropriately adopted the theme of anti-microbial resistance for this year’s World Health Day last week. The controversy over a claim made last year that a drug-resistant superbug had originated in India had drawn attention to the problem. Superbugs which have entered India from other countries have also been identified.

Development of resistance to drugs is a natural process for the bacteria that cause various aliments for human beings and animals. A number of harmful bacteria that cause diseases like tuberculosis and malaria,  which are mass killers, have developed immunity and this has made the fight against these diseases more difficult.

Research is at a dead-end in finding more effective antibiotics. The only solution is reducing the use of antibiotics so that the bacteria do not develop resistance. In India doctors are known for indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics even for minor ailments because of pressure from drug companies or drug stores or on demand from patients themselves.

Many patients do self-medication. The WHO has estimated that as much as 53 per cent of the use of antibiotics in India is without prescription. Drug stores do not follow rules and sell over the counter medicines that should only be sold on prescription. Norms about dosage and period of use of drugs are often not followed.

After last year’s controversy an expert committee had drawn up guidelines for hygiene standards and appropriate use of antibiotics. There are proposals for ban on some drugs, making prescriptions mandatory for sale of some others, regular scrutiny of prescriptions and an effective surveillance mechanism. They are yet to be made into a proper drug administration policy which can be effectively implemented.

It is most important to educate doctors, stake-holders in the health industry and common people on the need to minimise the use of antibiotics. When antibiotics lose their potency and human beings lose their natural immunity there will be no way of beating back the harmful bacteria that may pose serious threats to life and health.

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