Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Antibiotics in China: not quite there yet


by MICHAEL WOODHEAD
Regular readers of this blog will know that antibiotic misuse is one of my real bugbears about medicine in China. Seeing rows of patients in emergency departments routinely hooked up to infusions of broad spectrum antibiotics for fevers is a symbol of everything that is wrong with healthcare in the PRC.

Well it seems that I'm in good company in deploring this unwelcome practice. As part of Antibiotic Resistance Awareness Week, the World Health Organisation has taken China to task for its misuse of antibiotics. In a new global report it singles out China for having particularly poor usage and knowledge of antibacterials. A survey reveals that more than 60% of Chinese think, incorrectly, that colds and flu can be treated by antibiotics. A similar proportion have used antibiotics in the past few months and one in four bought them over the counter rather than obtain them on prescription. And while 67% were aware of the term ‘antibiotic resistance, few realised that cutting down on antibiotic use was the way to tackle it.

The WHO states that China is one of the worst offenders for antibiotic misuse and blames the lack of awareness among the citizenry for this problem. For a country that prides itself on such a good education system, how can Chinese be so badly informed about such an important matter?

The head of the pharmacy department at the Beijing Union Medical College Hospital, Zhang Jichun, says many Chinese demand antibiotics as a "quick fix". At the hospital if doctors say that antibiotics are inappropriate for patients with a fever or a cough they are rebuked with: "my illness so bad, why don't you give me an infusion for it?" Doctors say patients accuse them of not taking their illness seriously and demand "give me an infusion quickly so I will recover quickly and can get back to work!"

The WHO says it hopes the new report will raise awareness about antibiotic overuse and the risk of resistance in China. I'm not holding my breath.

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