As the world faces the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, compounded by shortages of key antibiotics, the healthcare sector is working to ensure the availability and efficacy of these life-saving medicines.
This European Antibiotics Awareness Day on 18 November highlights the urgent need for greater awareness of the risks of misuse and over-prescription of antibiotics and the key role healthcare professionals, patients and organisations all play in combatting antibiotic resistance.
In the realm of modern medicine, few discoveries have revolutionised patient care as profoundly as antibiotics.
Since their inception in the 1930s, antibiotics have been pivotal in combating infections, saving millions of lives, and ushering in a new era of healthcare.
At the beginning of the 20th century the average life expectancy at birth was 47 years – even in the industrialised world. Infectious diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, typhus, and syphilis were wreaking havoc.
The arrival of antibiotics shifted the main cause of death from communicable to non-communicable diseases and drove a near doubling of life expectancy in developed countries.
Growing threat of resistance
However, in more recent years, the rise of resistance to antibiotics represents a growing threat to the sustainable use of these critical medicines.
Resistance occurs naturally: bacteria develop mutations that help them survive antibiotic attack and, through survival of the fittest, the resistant mutations thrive.
These mutants can pass their genes to other bacteria to form new strains of superbug.
This natural process has been dangerously amplified by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which has given bacteria more chances to develop resistance.
One factor driving overuse of antibiotics is demand on the patient side to provide a swift solution to their pain and discomfort.
Patients must question antibiotic use
Whether bacterial or viral, patients need to ask more about the necessity for antibiotics.
For many living with a chronic illness such as respiratory issues, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diabetes, asking questions of their healthcare team is encouraged and accepted.
That position of asking is not adversarial but needs to be embraced more by healthcare professionals in an everyday setting- a clear line of communication on why antibiotics are not a cure-all and should only be used when deemed necessary.
Questions such as “is this infection caused by bacteria?” are a simple but effective starting point for all parties.
An informed healthcare system only improves patient outcomes and preserves the efficacy of these critical medicines and protects an already vulnerable system.
In a post-pandemic era, awareness of bacteria and viruses’ ability to mutate to become resistant has increased significantly. However, continual education and upskilling in this area are still necessary.
The misuse and over-prescription of antibiotics is a significant public health concern that we cannot afford to ignore.
As healthcare providers, we hold a profound responsibility to educate ourselves and in turn our patients to inform and empower.
We must work collectively to foster a more invested healthcare ecosystem, one that values antibiotics while safeguarding them for future generations.