Antibiotics use 10 times higher among Chinese

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Chinese are on average taking 10 times as many antibiotics as other nations' populations, a leading drug official said yesterday.

This raises serious questions about antibiotics abuse and associated health risks, said Wu Zhen, vice director of the State Food and Drug Administration.

Wu was speaking at a food and drug safety meeting in Hainan Province.

China produces 210,000 tons of antibiotics every year. This is split almost equally between drugs for human consumption and, at slightly less, antibiotics for the livestock industry. Antibiotics are used to aid growth and tackle disease in domestic animals.

Officials from Shanghai Health Bureau said central and local health authorities have increased the awareness of antibiotics abuse and issued guidance on their use.

But hospitals and medical staff do not follow the rules strictly, and the public places blind faith in antibiotics, they said.

"Medical facilities and professionals must play the lead role in controlling antibiotics abuse in clinical practice, and patients should follow doctors' advice," said Song Guofan from Shanghai Health Bureau.

Minor colds

"Many patients request doctors to prescribe antibiotics for 'immunity enhancement' to treat minor colds and diseases which are not viral infections," Song said.

According to Du Wenmin, vice director of Shanghai Clinical Center for Drug Adverse Reaction Monitoring, antibiotics use at outpatient and inpatient departments of Chinese hospitals is double or triple that of Western hospitals.

"About 90 percent of Chinese inpatients are prescribed antibiotics, while the figure is only 30 percent in Western hospitals. Most surgeons give patients antibiotics, whether necessary or not," Du said.

"And around 80 percent of people attending outpatient services are given antibiotics, either by doctors or as a result of their requests. In the West, the figure is 20 percent."

Many people also buy antibiotics over the counter at drugstores without a prescription.

Resistant bacteria

The widespread use of antibiotics leads to the creation of resistant strains of bacteria.

Shanghai has issued regulations that people should present a doctor's prescription when buying antibiotics at a pharmacy. However, they can still obtain the drugs by leaving their contact details, despite having no prescription.

"We insisted that drugstores must have licensed pharmacists to direct customers and advise people not to buy antibiotics if they aren't a cure," said Du Bing from Shanghai Food and Drug Administration.

Antibiotics are the top cause of adverse reactions in the city. Local hospitals recorded 20,000 cases of adverse reactions in a year. Of these, 40 percent were caused by antibiotics, followed by cardiovascular drugs and traditional Chinese medicine.

"Some adverse reactions can prove fatal, said Du of the drug adverse reaction center.

Local hospitals said they are clamping down on antibiotics abuse.

Shanghai Children's Medical Center has established a system regulating the prescription rights of different levels of doctors. Junior doctors should consult with seniors before prescribing antibiotics.

Its pharmacy checks doctors' prescription papers and quizzes medics with improper antibiotics prescriptions. This could be due to poor work or under-the-table business, such as getting commission from pharmaceutical companies.

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