Chinese hospitals announce huge reduction in antibiotics use

ChineseAntibioticsBack in 1994, in the book The Coming Plague, health and science writer Laurie Garrett warned that “improper use of antibiotics” would lead to the rise of an era of superbugs—bacteria that have become immune to the antibiotics used to treat them.

Today the future seems to have arrived.

The mainstream medical industry is finally acknowledging that decades of over-prescribing antibiotics has created a huge problem.

Last week Chinese officials announced that the use of antibiotics in Chinese hospitals had dropped by a whopping 40 percent since the top health authority began to curb their overuse.

“The Chinese government recognized the challenges and implemented measures starting in 2012 to tackle that,” said Xiao Yonghong, a professor at the Institute of Clinical Pharmacology at Peking University and a member of the Rational Drug Use Committee of the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The measures include stricter control over public access to antibiotics, overhauling their overuse by hospitals, and monitoring of antibiotic resistance.

“Antibiotic use dropped by 40 percent by the end of last year,” Xiao said, citing the national surveillance network of drug use linking large hospitals nationwide.

The 40% drop is an astounding accomplishment when considering the fact that the Chinese population has much greater freedom in acquiring antibiotics than their American counter-parts.

In China most people can easily purchase antibiotics over-the-counter at their local drugstore without the ubiquitous “prescription permission” required in the U.S.

One possible explanation for the success may be that Chinese medical consumers enjoy another freedom that Americans don’t: easy access to a wide range of herbal remedies provided by Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors.

Whatever the reasons, the Chinese as a whole seem to have taken the dire warnings of The Coming Plague quite seriously.

A recent global review by the UK’s Lord Jim O’Neill on anti-microbial resistance estimates that by 2050 antibiotic resistance could result in 1 million premature deaths annually in China.

“China could suffer an enormous loss of GDP because of that,” said O’Neill, who headed the expert review team.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when a microbe evolves to become more or fully resistant to the anti-microbials that previously could treat it.

According to the global report, China uses around half the world’s antibiotics. Of this amount, 48 percent is consumed by people and the rest are used in the agricultural sector.

The heavy use of antibiotics in the agricultural industry exacerbates the problem. Excessive antibiotic residue appears to be passed on to humans through meat consumption, increasing the possibility of antibiotic resistance in people.

Also, they could “contaminate” other parts of the world due to increasing international travel and exchange, he said.

O’Neill said: “It’s a serious global challenge and thus needs a global solution.”

Worldwide, anti-microbial drugs are becoming less effective and the world is not developing enough new ones to keep up, the report said.

Worldwide, anti-microbial resistance by 2050 could be responsible for the deaths of 10 million people a year, the equivalent of 1 person every 3 second—more than cancer kills today, it said.

The cumulative economic cost of the world not acting would be around $100 trillion, O’Neill said.

In the meantime, let’s hope other counties start to take antibiotic overuse as seriously as China.

And let’s hope the organic movement grows as more consumers start realizing the consumption of antibiotic-ridden meat does have consequences.

Sources: ChinaDaily.com, The Coming Plague, by Laurie Garrett.