As the distribution of medications worldwide advances, individuals gain access to improved treatment options. Among the medications most frequently distributed are antibiotics. Though expanded access to medicines is “clearly desirable,” it can also create “challenges in preserving the efficacy of these drugs.” A recent report from the Center for Global Development (CGD) indicates that antibiotic distribution programs put in place by the World Health Organization, government agencies, and other groups may be contributing to the increased incidence of drug-resistant bacteria. According to Nancy Birdsall, the president of the CGD, “Drug resistance is a serious problem that doesn’t get serious attention.”
Antibiotics and antimicrobial agents are the most effective means of combating infectious disease. However, as a class of drugs, antibiotics are unique in that once an antibiotic is utilized, the bacteria it is intended to fight begin to develop a resistance and the effectiveness of the medication is diminished. According to British researchers who analyzed 24 previous studies, the excessive prescription and use of antibiotics for coughs and flu-like illnesses leads to antibiotic resistance. Studies indicate that the overuse of medications, inconsistent drug quality, and other factors hasten the adaptation of resistance to given antibiotic and antimicrobial agents.
This increased resistance to commonly used antibiotics can result in “superbugs,” such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA), which is the cause of more than 50 percent of staph infections in US hospitals. Additionally, in the developing world, drug-resistant strains of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases are the cause of death for millions of children each year. According to Céire Costello Research Associate at the University of Bristol, “there are some concerns that some common infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat.” This is seen with increasing frequency in many remote and medically underserved areas of the world where medication dispersal programs are especially prevalent. Reports indicate that 60 to 80 percent of dysentery cases among children in Latin America are “resistant to the drugs recommended to treat it.”
By retaining the medications available now and developing new drugs, experts hope to be able to continue combat bacterial infections effectively. Because of the lengthy development and testing process associated with creating new medications for mass consumption, it is critical to ensure that drug resistance is minimized as much as possible. By urging providers to keep track of which antibiotics they prescribe and how frequently, it may by possible to help slow the rate of drug resistance. It is also essential for clinicians and individuals worldwide, particularly in the developing world, to be aware of the importance of not over prescribing or over using antibiotics.
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