Is India Overusing Antibiotics?

A study published by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) on Antibiotic prescription rates in India brought some interesting information to light. India is not only the top users of antibiotics but out consumption has gone up massively by 22% in just the 4 years between 2012 and 2016. The highest rate was found in children as young as 0-4 years of age. This may have catastrophic effects of a rise in antimicrobial resistance.

What is Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)?

Antimicrobial resistance is when a microorganism (such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.) develops the ability to nullify the effects of antimicrobials (such as antibiotics, antivirals, etc.). This leads to standard medical treatments against illnesses caused by these microbes ineffective. When a microbe is resistant to more than one drug, it is known as a multi-drug resistant strain.

Why is Antimicrobial Resistance a problem?

Antibiotics were discovered only a century ago. Since then they have saved countless lives. And although bacteria and other microbes mutate over generations and develop resistance to antibiotics, overprescribing these medications is just speeding up the process tenfolds. A research done in the USA has shown up to 2-million people develop antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and roughly 23,000 die from those infections.

What does the medical community have to say?

Needless to say, the medical community is worried. These resistant strains, also known as superbugs, are becoming more and more rampant each day. Medical professionals are of the opinion that we are only a step away from an incurable version of an otherwise simple disease such as Cholera or E.Coli. The most worrying fact is that antibacterial resistance is easily passed from one species of bacteria to another. Even the World Health Organisation has already admitted its fear of the return of diseases such as tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and pneumonia making a comeback in their incurable forms.

Way Forward

Prevention is always better than cure. Just sensitizing doctors against unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics may not be enough. In a country like India, where regulations against buying medicine without a prescription are lax, the government must ensure sensitizing citizens as well. At the same time, there should be better rules and regulations against the selling of off-the-rack medicine. More research should be funded on finding better antibiotics to beat the germs. Encouraging better hygiene and ensuring vaccinations should ensure our species is not wiped out by a plague anytime soon.

Question for UPSC Mains:
The over-prescribing of antibiotics is a ticking timebomb. Discuss.

Published: January 10, 2020 | Modified:October 15, 2020

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