Awareness campaign takes aim at doctors’ over-prescription of antibiotics

The European Union marked its first-ever European Antibiotic Awareness Day on Tuesday, part of a campaign to tackle the over-prescription of antibiotics. The Czech Republic, while not the worst offender, saw a significant rise in the number of prescriptions in the 1990s. Now it is trying to encourage patients to choose a good rest and tea when ill, rather than appealing to their doctor for antibiotics.

Dr Vlastimil Jindrák
A little earlier Jan Velinger spoke to Doctor Vlastimil Jindrák, the head of the National Antibiotic Programme overseeing the campaign here in the Czech Republic. He began by asking him about why an increased awareness among both doctors and patients was so important.

“The main problem is that in hospitals - and also in ambulatory care - antibiotics are frequently overused or misused and this problem is closely associated with growing bacterial resistance. That means we have fewer antibiotics available for treating serious infections. Approximately 20 years ago we were a country with fairly low use, comparable with the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. But during the early ‘90s a significant growth in consumption was observed, a rise of about 30 percent. Some strategies were implanted to try and bring the numbers back down, but were only partly successful.”

What was the reason that doctors began prescribing more? Was it because of more products’ availability and their strong promotion, for example?

“The reasons were quite complex. But they included the reorganisation of structures here: practitioners became independent, that is, private. Other factors included a lack of new and more objective information on epidemiological situations in the country. The influence of the pharmaceutical companies in education was also quite strong, as was their promotion of some products. I think those all had an influence.”

What are we risking if we don’t heed the warning and reduce the level of antibiotic consumption in the Czech Republic as well as elsewhere?

“The risk is really the loss of effectiveness of antibiotics, especially in treating serious infections like community-acquired pneumonia or meningitis and similar diseases. There is a risk of death of course from serious infections. When we will have no antibiotics left for treatment we will return to a kind of pre-antibiotic era and higher mortality rates related to certain illnesses will again become reality.”