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Our time with antibiotics may be running out

Jan 12,2020 - Last updated at Jan 12,2020

Ever since the discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, by Alexander Fleming in 1928, the field of medicine was revolutionalised. A tool became available that had the potential to fight previously fatal bacterial infections. This paved the way for the development of various types of antibiotics along the years. Some might argue that this discovery has been the most important discovery in the field of medicine in the last century. However, with this revolutionary discovery, a serious challenge has risen, and that is antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is something that bacteria develop, where they start exhibiting properties that allow them to evade and survive antibiotic action. This is facilitated by the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. This simply means that infections are generally becoming harder to treat. Resistance is developing against the different types of antibiotics, and bacteria are developing resistance at a much faster rate than the discovery and approval of new antibiotics, which lags far behind the rate of resistance development.

This unfortunate situation could have serious implications. Infections that were once easily treated could prove to be fatal, and there is a plethora of cases worldwide where individuals are dying or developing serious complications due to antibiotic resistant bacteria. 

I myself, during my years of clinical practice, have come to witness a number of such cases, which even include children as young as a month of age with resistance to a large number of antibiotics, making treatment much more difficult and costly. 

The majority of the general public do not understand the gravity of the situation. Doctors are constantly being pressured into prescribing antibiotics in situations where antibiotics are not needed, and this has become an unfortunate norm. I have witnessed many instances where doctors are subjected to verbal abuse upon refusal to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics, even when proper counselling regarding the issue is provided. Only rarely do individuals seem to get the gist of the matter.

Another issue contributing to the problem here in Jordan is the ability of anyone to get antibiotics from pharmacies over-the-counter, without the need for a medical prescription. In many countries, such as the US and UK, stringent measures have been put in place to prevent easy, harmful and unnecessary access to antibiotics, and even in such countries there are many cases of antibiotic resistance; imagine how the situation is here in Jordan, where there is relatively easy access to antibiotics.

The unnecessary over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors, together with the fact that people have easy access to antibiotics, is constantly contributing to a situation going bad, and I believe it is time for the governing authorities to take serious action to counter this issue. At this rate, we are heading into a place in time where the simplest of bacterial infections can prove to be fatal and where no single antibiotic will be effective. Our time with antibiotics may be running out.

 

The author is a general practioner who contributes to The Jordan Times on health issues.

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