When antibiotics were discovered in the 1940s, they were termed the “magic bullet” due to their tremendous contribution to the decrease in morbidity and mortality of bacterial infections. However, today antibiotics are not as effective as they were praised for a 50 years ago. As more antibiotics were discovered, their use became widespread and access to them became less and less restricted. This led to miss use of antibiotics and eventually bacteria became resistant to them.
When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic, it simply means that particular antibiotic becomes useless hence making the treatment of simple infections very challenging and sometimes almost impossible. While most bacteria can develop resistant to one or more antibiotics, some can become resistant to almost all available antibiotics.
Today the global emergence and increase of antibiotic resistance is very worrisome and we are on the verge of losing these precious resources. This year, the world antibiotics awareness week will be held between 14- 20 November with the theme “Antibiotics: Handle with care”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for global awareness in the proper use of antibiotics and a collaborative approach and responsibility to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance. Why should we worry about antibiotic resistant bacteria? Bacteria causes a number diseases some of which like pneumonia and meningitis are life threatening and if we do not have effective antibiotics to kill them, they will eventually kill us.
Unlike bacteria that can be treated, antibiotic resistant bacteria are difficult to treat, can easily spread, and control, especially in poor countries like Malawi where poverty, HIV/AIDS and poor hygiene are prevalent, can be very difficult. The common antibiotics can no longer work on antibiotic resistant bacteria and that means you will have to spend more time in the hospital while the doctors try to figure out other possible antibiotic options.
However there are no much antibiotic options to treat these infections and they may not be available in most African countries. Worse more, these “last resort antibiotics” are ridiculously expensive and they are commonly associated with adverse side effects. It has been close to 20 years now and no new antibiotics have been discovered and yet sadly, antibiotic resistance is increasing at a worrisome rate no one anticipated.
This means we have no option but to handle with care and extremely protect the few effective antibiotics that we have. How can you contribute to the fight against bacterial antibiotic resistance? It is important to understand that while all antibiotics are medicines, not all medicines are antibiotics and while bacteria cause diseases, not all diseases are caused by bacteria. That means not all diseases require an antibiotic to be treated.
As part of this year’s theme, the WHO encourages all sectors to make pledges on how they intend to help fight the misuse of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. If you are a prescribing doctor, understanding when and when not to give an antibiotic is very crucial. This can be done by strictly following your national antibiotic prescription guidelines and developing a professional behaviour of basing your diagnosis on laboratory findings whenever possible.
Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can do you more harm than good. As a patient, you have the right to say no to antibiotics if no proper reasons of taking them are given to you by your doctor. Whenever a proper antibiotic prescription is made to you, always strive to complete your dose and that means taking the right amount of pills at the right time for the recommended time period. Antibiotics should never be shared even when you think that your wife or children have the same infection like yours.
Whenever you do not feel better after taking a full course of antibiotics, do not buy antibiotics from private pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription, always consult your doctor as you might need a different antibiotic.
A healthy life means a better future. Let us join hands and protect our precious antibiotics as we all strive to stay healthy and productive.
- Geoffrey Kumwenda, PhD Student – Osaka University, Japan [email protected]