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WHO releases survey on antibiotic resistance

16 November 2015  •  Author: Victoria White

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a new multi-country survey that shows people are confused about antibiotic resistance and do not understand how to prevent it from growing.

antibiotic-resistance

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Over-use and misuse of antibiotics increase the development of resistant bacteria, and this survey points out some of the practices, gaps in understanding and misconceptions which contribute to this phenomenon.

Almost two thirds of some 10 000 people who were surveyed across 12 countries say they know antibiotic resistance is an issue that could affect them and their families, but how it affects them and what they can do to address it are not well understood. For example, 64% of respondents believe antibiotics can be used to treat colds and flu, despite the fact that antibiotics have no impact on viruses. Close to one third of people surveyed believe they should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better, rather than completing the prescribed course of treatment.

The survey findings coincide with the launch of a new WHO campaign ‘Antibiotics: Handle with care’ – a global initiative to improve understanding of the problem and change the way antibiotics are used.

“Urgent need” to improve understanding of antibiotic resistance

“The findings of this survey point to the urgent need to improve understanding around antibiotic resistance,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, Special Representative of the Director-General for Antimicrobial Resistance. “This campaign is just one of the ways we are working with governments, health authorities and other partners to reduce antibiotic resistance. One of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century will require global behaviour change by individuals and societies.”

Some common misconceptions revealed by the survey include:

  • Three quarters of respondents think that antibiotic resistance happens when the body (rather than bacteria) becomes resistant to antibiotics.
  • Two thirds of respondents believe that individuals are not at risk of a drug-resistant infection if they personally take their antibiotics as prescribed. Nearly half 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 of respondents feel there is not much they can do to stop antibiotic resistance, while nearly two thirds 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.

To address this growing problem, a global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance was endorsed at the World Health Assembly in May 2015. One of the plan’s five objectives is to improve awareness and understanding of antibiotic resistance through effective communication, education and training.

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