Shopping for Medicine

July 6, 2016

Health remains a top agenda for consumers again this year. Consumer movements are once again joining together to mark the World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), celebrated globally on 15 March.

The theme is related to tackling a major international public health crisis, which is caused by Antimicrobial/Antibiotic Resistance (AMR).

The Global consumer movement, Consumers International (CI) had set the theme, Antibiotics off the Menu. The global organisation is calling on the world’s largest fast food companies to make commitments to prohibit serving meat from animals routinely given antibiotics used in human medicine. Their key focus is the over use of antibiotic in agriculture, with much of this being used to make animals grow faster and to prevent rather than treat disease.

At the national level, the Council had partnered with Ministry of Health and Medical Services and World Health Organisation (WHO) to mark the occasion with the theme, ‘Stop misuse of Antibiotics’. The theme is focusing mainly on the use and abuse of antibiotics by public through oral consumption.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health facing us today. Massive overconsumption of existing antibiotics and a shortage of new ones, has hastened the emergence of highly resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistant infections are already spreading in all parts of the world. Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which important medicines stop working and common infections can once again kill.

We are exposed to Antibiotic resistant bacteria mainly by two means: Firstly by oral consumption of Antimicrobial/Antibiotics. Secondly by spread from farms to people through air, soil, water, manure and the consumption of contaminated meat and animal products. In a nutshell, the more antibiotics you use, the more bacteria become resistant to it. Many consumers are ‘overusing and abusing’ antibiotics without realizing its side-effects.

Antibiotics cannot help you recover from infections caused by viruses, such as cold or flu.  Fijian consumers can easily access their favorite over-the-counter medicine including antimicrobials/antibiotics at any pharmacy in their towns/cities at an affordable price.  A bad habit is some share their antibiotic course with their families. They are not medically trained to be in a position to diagnose, let alone prescribe medicine.  There shouldn’t be any sharing of antibiotics among the household.

Not completing the antibiotic course is also contributing to the antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The danger to the individual is that the infection will recur, and will be more difficult to treat when it does. If you fail to complete a course of antibiotics, some of the bacteria causing the infection may survive. These bacteria will be the ones with the greatest resistance to the antibiotic.

Medical practitioners also play a vital role in combatting AMR given that they are the ones prescribing antibiotics to their patients. Over-prescription is adding to the misuse. It is time that doctors exercise responsibility by refusing to prescribe antimicrobial/antibiotics to those who do not genuinely need it.

According to WHO, all stakeholders need to work together to tackle antibiotic resistance.

Consumers can help tackle resistance by:

  • using antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor;
  • completing the full prescription, even if they feel better;
  • never sharing antibiotics with others or using leftover prescriptions.

Health workers and pharmacists can help tackle resistance by:

  • enhancing infection prevention and control;
  • only prescribing and dispensing antibiotics when they are truly needed;
  • prescribing and dispensing the right antibiotic(s) to treat the illness.

Policymakers can help tackle resistance by:

  • strengthening resistance tracking and laboratory capacity;
  • regulating and promoting appropriate use of medicines. Food industry can help tackle resistance by:
  • fostering innovation, research and development of new tools;
  • promoting cooperation and information sharing among all stakeholders.