Antibiotic use in humans is reported to be increasing.

ANTIBIOTIC resistance is a condition in which antibiotics lose the ability to kill bacteria or prevent their growth. It is a major threat to global health and can affect anyone, at any age, in any country. It leads to longer hospital stay, higher medical cost and increased mortality.

Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.

Antibiotic use in humans is reported to be increasing substantially. Surveys in Malaysia and many other countries indicate that many patients believe antibiotics will cure viral infections such as cold, cough and sore throat. This misconception leads them to request physicians to prescribe antibiotics regardless of the type of infection.

As is the case with humans, the use of antibiotics in animals is essential for treating bacterial infections. It offers considerable benefits, both in terms of animal welfare and food production.

However, much of the use of antibiotics in animals is not therapeutic. Instead, significant amounts are given to healthy animals to prevent the development of an infection within a flock or herd, or simply for growth promotion, to speed up the pace at which the animals gain weight.

Of the 139 published studies, only seven (five per cent) indicated that there was no link between antibiotic consumption in animals and resistance in humans, while 100 (72 per cent) found evidence of a link. This suggests that the use of antibiotics in animals is a factor in promoting resistance in humans and provides a justification for policymakers to reduce the global use of antibiotics in food production to a more optimal level.

Since antibiotic resistance is something that must be managed with the utmost urgency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a global action plan on antibiotic resistance and urges all countries to develop national action plans to optimise the use of antibiotics for both human and animal health.

With this approach, the extent of the reduction in human consumption of antibiotics and the consumption of antibiotics used in food production (terrestrial and aquatic livestock and other agricultural practices) is achievable.

In line with WHO’s global action plan, we should adopt new policies to control the use of antibiotics for human health, and in animal and food production.

Without immediate action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era where common infections can once again kill.

LYNA IRAWATI, PROF DR MOHAMED AZMI AHMAD HASSALI AND DR FAHAD SALEEM, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang