Doctors from Tibet attend a training course in the appropriate use of antibiotics at a hospital in
Nyingchi prefecture, Tibet.
A recent report from the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration reveals widespread misuse of antibiotic drugs across the country. The data reveal nearly 40% of the population keeps a stock of antibiotics at home, 24% use antibiotics to treat the common cold and just 40% of people bother to read included information on correct use and potential side-effects before taking antibiotics.
According to World Health Organization data, the clinical application of antibiotics globally, excluding China, does not exceed 30% of admitted hospital patients. A conservative estimate puts the figure at 60 to 70% in third-tier hospitals in China, and above 80% in second-tier hospitals. The Ministry of Health reports that the application rate of antibiotics to hospitalized patients in the country has reached 70% and the rate tops 97% for patients undergoing surgery.
The misuse of antibiotics is likely to lead to more drug-resistant strains of bacteria and the exhaustion of effective medicine supplies. When bacteria develop drug resistance at a speed faster than the development of new medicines, human beings are threatened by various numerous diseases. Ten years ago, only 3% of acinetobacter —a genus of bacteria resistant to many classes of antibiotics— was found to be drug-resistant but the rate has risen to 50%. If the situation deteriorates, China will be left with a chronic shortage of medicines used to treat bacterial infections, leaving patients who would normally recover with a terminal illness.
The misuse of antibiotics also results in harm to patients and associated waste of medical resources. Yang Zhiyian, director of the behavioral medicine unit at the Chinese Medical Association in Taipei, says that 200,000 people in China die yearly from adverse reactions to medicines and 40% of these deaths are caused by antibiotics.
Zhao Ming-gang, an official of the Ministry of Health, attributes the widespread misuse of antibiotics to insufficient knowledge first-point health care workers have about such drugs, the casual application of antibiotic medicines by medical personnel on the request of the patients or their families, lack of regulation surrounding the marketing of these drugs, lack of understanding about the correct and appropriate use of antibiotic medicines among the public, unnecessary use of antibiotics in public hospitals as a means of boosting revenue, and increased dosage and course length by doctors preferring to over-treat patients rather than risk the opposite.
The Chinese government has taken actions to deal with the misuse of antibiotic medicines. In the 1990s, it began to tighten regulations of prescription and non-prescription medicines. In 2004, the Ministry of Health announced guidelines for the clinical application of antibiotic medicines, and in 2005 established a reporting network to better keep track of the of antibiotic drugs as well as a system for recording the developments in drug-resistant bacteria.