Thailand joins fight against antibiotic resistance

antibiotics5With the global threat of ‘superbugs’ that defeat conventional antibiotics rising, Thailand will take steps in line with other nations to combat antibiotic overuse and abuse and control the spread of infections that cannot be cured by current treatments through a five-year plan unveiled last week by the Ministry of Public Health.

Overuse, incorrect and misguided use of antibiotics has alarmed public health experts worldwide. They are warning that viruses, bacteria and parasites are evolving into new more powerful strains faster than scientists can develop new generations of antibiotics that would be effective against them. The problem is global, but particularly acute in Southeast Asia.

Antibiotic resistance is a major challenge for Thailand’s healthcare system. Although the United Nations and global public health experts have praised the Kingdom’s public health system as a model for developing nations, antibiotics are available over the counter and easily misused or abused.

A study by the British government published earlier this year predicted that 10 million people worldwide would die from infections resistant to antibiotics by 2050. About 4.7 million of those deaths would occur in Asia, the report said. Li Yang Hsu, the director of the antimicrobial resistance program at Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said countries in Southeast Asia have higher rates of antibiotic resistance compared to Western countries.

Overstretched healthcare systems, inappropriate and excessive prescription of antibiotics, inter-hospital transfers including the phenomenon of medical tourism, overuse of antibiotics in the agricultural setting and poor environmental hygiene and sanitation are factors driving resistance, he told the Southeast Asia Globe news website.

Permanent secretary for public health Sophon Mekthon said the government will begin screening and monitoring the situation, control the distribution of antibiotics, prevent and control anti-microbial resistance (AMR) in hospitals and medical units, launch similar measures in the farming and livestock sectors, build awareness, and develop cooperation between relevant agencies.

The goal of the plan is to cut antimicrobial-resistant infections by half by 2021 and reduce the use of antibiotics both in humans and animals by 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Thailand is the first nation in the region to develop a plan to tackle this problem.

A local study used microbiology databases, hospital admission databases and the national death registry to estimate that multidrug-resistant bacterial infections killed 19,122 people in Thailand in 2010. That is a much higher rate in respect to total population than deaths found in Europe or North America.

The World Health Organization recently said “improvements in global health over recent decades are under threat.” The microorganisms that cause tuberculosis, malaria, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and food poisoning are becoming increasingly resistant to a wide range of medicines, while some strains of tuberculosis and gonorrhea are already resistant to all known antibiotics.