Use of antibiotics faces tightening

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The Ministry of Health is set to further curb the overuse of antibiotics, mainly at large hospitals, to fight rising drug resistance.

By the year's end, the rates of antibiotics use among inpatients and outpatients on the mainland are expected to be lowered from 70 percent and 50 percent to around 50 percent and 20 percent, which are in line with international standards, the ministry told a regular news conference on Monday.

"The long-time overuse is related to factors including bad morality of some medical workers and the current system whereby hospitals rely on drug sales for revenue," said Zhao Minggang, deputy director of the department of medical administration under the ministry.

Experts estimate that only 20 percent of the total antibiotics administered on the mainland are necessary. Others are prescribed mainly for financial benefit.

Apart from the economic burden caused for patients, "the misuse of antibiotics -- primarily the overuse -- creates antibiotic-resistant germs, which might cost human lives," warned Professor Xiao Yonghong from the First Hospital of Zhejiang province.

According to Xiao, about 30 to 50 percent of the infections acquired in hospitals on the mainland are caused by bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics.

And the rate is on the rise, he said.

In October, China confirmed its first three cases of the NDM-1 superbug in two infants in northwestern Ningxia Hui autonomous region, and an elderly resident of the eastern Fujian province.

First found in India in 2008, the new bacterium carrying the NDM-1 gene, which is resistant to almost all antibiotics and could only be treated with a combination of antibiotic drugs, was briefly spreading globally.

Last week, reports said such bacteria were found to have spread from hospitals to communities in India.

Asked about the situation in China, Zhao said: "after the three cases in October, no more such cases have been detected on the mainland."

Xiao, however, conceded that surveillance capacity remained limited, particularly at communities in China.

Previously, other antibiotics-resistant bacteria, like MRSA, were also spotted at some Chinese communities, he said.

In response, Zhao said a coming regulation to promote proper drug use would help curb current misuse, primarily at medical institutions.

The regulation will restrict antibiotics uses at hospitals in terms of the category and number prescribed, he said.

Also, it will divide antibiotics into three categories: restricted and unrestricted antibiotics, and those under special management. Having full or partial access to antibiotics will depend on the rank of the medical institution.

In another development, the ministry said it would launch a nationwide examination on the implementation of a national immunization program.

Currently, China's vaccination drive includes 14 vaccines, mainly pediatric, against 15 diseases.

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