LAST week a global public health event went by without much being mentioned about it.
It was the World Antibiotics Awareness Week.
This event should have been marked with major activities as it is a global public health concern because of the misuse and abuse of antibiotics that could cause the human body to resist antibiotics.
For Papua New Guinea, the message drummed home with this event should be focused on the dangers of purchasing antibiotics, like amoxycillin, on the street.
The Health Department has on countless times warned the public not to purchase medicine sold at places that are not recognised by the department and the World Health Organisation.
Those selling on the streets are doing so without proper compliance certificates and pharmaceutical licences.
Antibiotics are an indispensable weapon in every physician’s arsenal, but when prescribed unnecessarily for non-bacterial infections like the common cold, as they too often are, they provide no benefit and create problems.
Antibiotics wipe out healthy bacteria and can cause side effects like yeast infections and allergic reactions.
Worse still, they contribute to the rise in superbugs that resist treatment with antibiotics.
Antibiotics either stop bacteria from reproducing or destroy them.
Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms, the body’s immune system can kill them.
Health journals say our white blood cells attack harmful bacteria and, even if symptoms do occur, our immune system can cope and fight off infection.
The body’s resistance to antibiotics is a problem that is increasing to dangerously high levels all over the world, and Papua New Guinea is no exception.
Where antibiotics can be bought for human or animal use without a prescription, the emergence and spread of resistance is made worse.
Similarly, in countries without standard treatment guidelines, antibiotics are often over-prescribed by health workers and veterinarians and over-used by the public.
Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control.
Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.
To prevent and control the spread of resistance to antibiotics, individuals can help themselves by:
- using antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional;
- never demand antibiotics if the health worker says you do not need them;
- always follow the health worker’s advice when using antibiotics;
- and never share or use leftover antibiotics.
Health professionals should only prescribe and dispense antibiotics when they are needed, and only according to current guidelines.
They also talk to patients about how to take antibiotic medications correctly, antibiotics resistance and the dangers of misuse.
It must be stressed that when infections can no longer be treated by first-line antibiotics, more expensive medicines should be used.
A longer duration of illness and treatment, often in hospitals, increases healthcare costs as well as the economic burden on families and societies.
Antibiotic resistance is putting the achievements of modern medicine at risk.
Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.