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Medics warn of the ‘ropes on our necks’ over abused drugs

Thursday, November 24th, 2022 01:00 | By
Dr Lucas Nyabero (left) of Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya consults with Dr Karim Wanga of Pharmacy and Poisons Board during the World Antimicrobial Awareness week in Nairobi on Tuesday. PD/William Oeri

Medics have listed four oral anti-biotic and one injectable drugs that are misused, overused, abused and purchased over the counter every day without prescription.

The drugs contribute to a deadly antimicrobial resistance which health experts  say is getting out of hand.

“Bear in mind that if you are buying amoxicillin, azithromycin, amoxicillin/ enzyme inhibitors such as augmentin, amoxiclav, and ceftriaxone injectable, you have a rope around your neck and ready to jump,” said Dr Karim Wanga, chief principal regulatory officer, Products Safety, at the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB).

He was speaking at a half-day Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Symposium, a side event during the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, marked globally. The event hosted by Kenya Medical Association brought together a number of stakeholders, including hospitals.

Errant chemists

Wanga said the situation is worsened by the fact that antibiotics top the list of drugs most consumed in the country. “Please avoid self-medication. Always visit a qualified practitioner for consultation and direction,” he advised, directing a similar recommendation to practitioners who also commit similar offences by dispensing drugs without prescriptions.

“To the practitioner, it is illegal to give customers drugs without a doctor’s advice. We have not seen any change among the practitioners despite the presence of AMR-focused guidelines for all stakeholders in the health sector,” he said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that AMR is one of the top 10 global public health threats. “Without effective antimicrobials, the success of modern medicine in treating infections, including during major surgery and cancer chemotherapy, would be at increased risk,” the organisation said last year.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. As a result of drug resistance, the medics noted that antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective and infections become increasingly difficult or impossible to treat.

The medics said that for common bacterial infections, including urinary tract diseases, sexually transmitted infections, and some forms of diarrhoea, high rates of resistance against antibiotics frequently used to treat them have been observed, not only in Kenya but across the world.

“This indicates that we are running out of effective antibiotics, and even affecting the use of modern medicine,” said the KMA chief executive officer, Dr Brenda Obondo after the symposium.

She said that despite remaining a requirement in public health, protecting patients from potentially fatal diseases, ensuring food security, and protecting the welfare of humans and animals, misuse, overuse, counterfeiting and poor disposal of antimicrobials, AMR has gained traction and is a global public health concern.

According to Dr. Obondo, KMA is advocating for a one-health approach to antimicrobial resistance to ensure optimal results in prevention of AMR.

She lauded the Ministry of Health’s recent move to embrace and implement the one-health approach, which has seen more research, collaborations, stewardship efforts and greater public awareness.

Sensitising patients

“The KMA has contributed to prevention of antimicrobial resistance through member education, sensitising patients, playing an advisory role to the Health Ministry through various working groups, and actively participating in world antimicrobial awareness over the years,” she said.

In April 2019, a report by the UN ad-hoc Interagency Coordinating Group on Antimicrobial Resistance warned that if no action is taken, drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050, with economic damages similar to the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. “By 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty,” it reads.

Currently, at least 700,000 people die each year across the globe due to drug-resistant diseases, including 230,000 people who die from drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Yesterday, speaking at the symposium, Dr Emannuel Tanui, the National Antimicrobial Stewardship Focal at the MoH, warned that more common diseases, including respiratory tract infections, STIs and urinary tract infections, are becoming untreatable.

The KMA called for continuous reference to existing policies and laws on these issues.

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