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Antibiotic Resistance: Are we Losing the war against Germs?

Health ministers of the G20 leading economies, meeting for the first time on Saturday, agreed to work together to tackle issues such as a growing resistance to antibiotics and to start implementing national action plans by the end of 2018.

Germany, which holds the G20 presidency this year, said it was an “important breakthrough” that all nations had agreed to address the problem and work towards obligatory prescriptions for antibiotics.

Saying that globalisation caused infectious diseases to spread more quickly than previously, the 20 nations also pledged to strengthen health systems and improve their ability to react to pandemics and other health risks.

While the discovery of antibiotics has provided cures for many bacterial infections that had previously been lethal, over-prescription has led to the evolution of resistance strains of many bacteria.

An EU report last year found that newly resistant strains of bacteria were responsible for more than 25,000 deaths a year in the 28-member bloc alone. Read more at Reuters.

Antibiotics and similar drugs have helped mankind to fight infection and death in the past 70 years.

What is antibiotic resistance?

This occurs when bacteria adapts to how a medication works. Adaptation reduces the effectiveness of the antibiotic. Germs may continue to multiply despite administration of drugs which may be life threatening.

About 500 thousand persons with TB do not respond to antibiotics yearly. In the past few months, germs resistant to powerful antibiotics have been found. The rise of these ‘superbugs’ has been a real source of concern doctors and patients alike.

About 50 years ago, a warning was sounded on the implication of uncontrolled prescriptions of antibiotics.

This was published in ScienceNews which stated that ” With the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics came man’s confidence in his ability to control infectious diseases. But now, that confidence is being shaken by once defenseless germs that have learned to outwit man and thrive in the face of his wonder drugs.… One way to cut down on drug resistance transfer is to stop prescribing antibiotics almost indiscriminately, but that is not an altogether workable solution”

That warning went unheeded!

This was recently underscored in a 2016 Faculty lecture delivered by Dr Tolulope Olayinka, a Professor of medical microbiology in Abuja, Nigeria. She observed that in Nigeria, antibiotics are available without prescriptions, unqualified vendors are licensed to sell drugs. ..and self medication is the order of the day”

That is why sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV are becoming more challenging to treat because of antibiotic resistance. Alarmingly, there are now strains of malaria parasite (P. Falciparum) that no longer respond to drugs.

Why does antibiotic resistance  occur?

Wrong or inappropriate use of antibiotics promote resistance. Individuals may underdose. For instance, some individuals routinely take a single dose of antibiotics to treat “stomach upset” and other common ailments. Many persons also misuse antibiotics by taking them for colds and flu commonly caused by viruses.

Why is giving attention to antibiotic use important?

According to WHO,  “new resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability, and death.

“Without effective antimicrobials for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery (for example, caesarean sections or hip replacements) become very high risk.”

How does it affect us?

Everyone is affected when germs no longer respond to antibiotics. Infections spread people fall Ill and die despite medical intervention. No wonder health ministers have agreed to work together in tackling the problem. Hopefully, this will strengthen our capacity in winning the war against germs.

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