Washington, D.C., 18 November 2015 (PAHO/WHO) — As part of the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week, 16-22 November, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) have launched an international campaign, "Antibiotics: Handle with care," to protect the drugs' life-saving qualities.
The campaign warns that misuse and over-use of antibiotics lead to the development of resistance and calls on the public, policymakers, health and agriculture professionals to use best practices to reverse the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.
"Antibiotics are among the most important tools available to medicine and public health, but widespread misuse is threatening their effectiveness," said Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO/WHO's Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis Department. "It is up to all of us—patients, health professionals, and the agricultural sector—to use these medicines judiciously to reverse the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance."
Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Practices that increase the development of resistant bacteria include pharmacies' dispensing antibiotics without a prescription and patients' not completing a full course of antibiotics as prescribed.
A recent PAHO survey of Latin America and Caribbean countries showed that antibiotics are dispensed without a prescription in 19 of 21 countries that provided responses. On the positive side, 16 countries reported that it would be feasible to eliminate that practice by 2020. Six of 21 countries reported having national committees on antibiotic use, while only four reported having national strategies to fight antibiotic resistance. But 18 countries responded that it would be feasible to have national strategies and committees in place by 2020.
The survey questions were based on measures contained in a regional plan of action to fight antimicrobial resistance that was approved by PAHO Member States in October. The plan aims to increase awareness and education on antimicrobial resistance, reduce the misuse of antimicrobial drugs, expand surveillance of drug resistance, improve infection prevention, and increase investment in new antibiotic drugs and diagnostics. The plan is consistent with a similar global plan adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2015.
WHO survey reveals public misconceptions
As part of the global launch of the "Antibiotics: Handle with care" campaign, WHO released the results of a new multi-country survey that reveals a number of common misconceptions about antibiotics and the development antibiotic resistance.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents in the 12 countries surveyed believe antibiotics can be used to treat colds and flu, despite the fact that antibiotics have no impact on viruses. Nearly one third (32%) believe they should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better, rather than completing the prescribed course of treatment, which is essential to prevent the emergence of resistance.
Other findings of the survey included:
- Three quarters (76%) of respondents think that antibiotic resistance happens when the body becomes resistant to antibiotics. In fact bacteria—not humans or animals—become resistant to antibiotics, and their spread causes hard-to-treat infections.
- Two thirds (66%) of respondents believe that individuals are not at risk of a drug-resistant infection if they personally take their antibiotics as prescribed. Nearly half (44%) of people surveyed think antibiotic resistance is only a problem for people who take antibiotics regularly. In fact, anyone of any age, in any country can get an antibiotic-resistant infection.
- More than half (57%) of respondents feel there is not much they can do to stop antibiotic resistance, while nearly two thirds (64%) believe medical experts will solve the problem before it becomes too serious.
Another key finding of the survey was that almost three quarters (73%) of respondents say farmers should give fewer antibiotics to food-producing animals.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the population. Founded in 1902, it is the world's oldest international public health agency. It serves as the WHO Regional Office for the Americas and is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.
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