More than two thirds of South Africans
surveyed think that antibiotics should be prescribed to treat colds and flu,
according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), raising the profile
of drug-resistance during World Antibiotic Awareness Week from November 14 to
Viruses vs. bacteria
Resistance to antibiotics, which develops
when the medicines are misused or overused, “is one of the biggest threats to global health,
food security, and development today”, the WHO said. These ‘superbugs’ threaten
to undermine the advances of modern medicine and the WHO warned that we could enter
a ‘post-antibiotic era’ where minor injuries and common infections once again
have the potential to kill.
12-country report published by the WHO last year, only 28 percent of surveyed
South Africans correctly responded ‘No’ to the question: Can colds and flu be
treated with antibiotics?
Read: Improper use causing antibiotic resistance
caused by viruses while antibiotics are only effective against infections
caused by bacteria.
to Shirley Leadbeater from the private hospital network Life Healthcare Group
antibiotics are among the most misused of all medicines globally.
parties – the patient, the doctor and the entire multifunctional team should be
aware of how their behaviour impacts this growing
threat and how we can work together to prevent antibiotic resistance from
spiralling out of control,” she said in a statement.
In 2014, South Africa became a regional leader in preventing the spread of resistance when the Department of Health (DOH)
launched its Antimicrobial Resistance National Strategy Framework 2014 – 2024.
resistance is a broader definition involving resistance to drugs used to treat
infections caused by other "microbes" including viruses, fungi and parasites.
often South Africa has excellent policies and falls flat when it comes to
implementation,” said the DOH’s Gavin Steel, speaking at a conference about the
issue being held at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in
Johannesburg this week.
He said the
DOH has been working to avoid this by proactively engaging provincial health
departments and developing localised action plans.
Read: The most important thing South Africans should know about superbugs
A report commissioned by the United Kingdom
government earlier this year estimated that globally at least 700 000 people
die each year from drug-resistant infections. If nothing is done, it projected
that by 2050 antimicrobial resistance will cause the deaths of 10 million
people every year – overtaking cancer.
While South Africa is taking action, one of
the biggest challenges globally is increasing the low levels of knowledge and
awareness on the issue, according to the WHO’s Patrick Otto, who spoke from the
NICD on Thursday.
“We need to provide accurate information to
allow the public to make informed choices. Increasing awareness efforts is a
challenge all countries will face.”
What can I do?
Countries need to develop policies
regulating the use of antibiotics in humans and animals but individuals also
have a responsibility to protect themselves. To reduce your risk of developing
a fatal drug-resistant infection here are some simple things you can do:
Only use antibiotics when
prescribed by a health professional.
Always finish the course of
drugs, even if you feel better.
Never use left-over
Don’t share your antibiotics
Prevent infections by regularly
washing your hands, avoiding close contact with sick people and keeping up to
date with your vaccinations. -
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Source: World Health Organisation
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