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Massive over-use of antibiotics in the media

China's media is at last focusing on a very serious public health issue: the rampant, out-of-control use of antibiotics to treat any illness or discomfort for which doctors cannot find a specific diagnosis.

If you have gone to a Chinese hospital with symptoms indicating anything from flu to gastroenteritis or TB, you've probably been prescribed intravenous (IV) therapy. The fluid administered through the IV drip could be traditional Chinese herbal medicine, or a range of Western medicines, but likely as not it will be a massive dose of antibiotics.

Although antibiotics are, in theory, prescription medicines, it is very easy to buy them over the counter at many pharmacies all over the country, especially in rural areas, so patients who don't go on an IV drip will pop antibiotic pills.

Along with many Chinese language newspapers and websites, today's China Daily has a feature length story on the problem. Excerpt:

With a hospital usage rate of roughly 70 percent nationwide, more than double the level recommended by the World Health Organization, China is now a nation "addicted" to antibiotics.

Health experts say this rampant abuse is not only increasing the risk of superbugs, such as the NDM-1 strain that hit the mainland last month, but is also leading to more babies being born who are resistant to powerful medication.

At Chongqing Southwest Hospital, where Yu works, pediatricians said they have already found many newborns are resistant to antimicrobial drugs, which work against disease-producing micro-organisms.

"It says in my medical school textbook that streptococcus pneumoniae, which causes pneumonia, is sensitive to penicillin," said doctor Wang Yang. "But the bacteria has long beaten penicillin, so we have to prescribe more advanced antibiotics to the children."

...

Today, China is the world's largest producer of antibiotics, boasting 181 brands, according to figures released at the Chinese Summit on Antibiotics in 2009. More than 83 percent of the 147,000 tons of antibiotics made annually in China are consumed domestically.

Quite a lot of the Chinese commentary online looks at the role antibiotics pay in making profits for hospitals or funding their operating costs. Chinese hospitals and doctors have a clear economic interest in prescribing antibiotics and many patients demand the quick cure that a strong dose can bring.

An opinion piece by Wu Shuai on Phoenix Online titled, "While antibiotic sales pay for hospitals, it will be hard to control antibiotic use" opens with the following sentence:

Yesterday, Professor Xiao Yonghong, who leads the Ministry of Health's Bacteria Resistance Monitoring Network ... revealed that antibiotcs make up about 30% of all medicine sales [in China]

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