Antibiotics rules must be followed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 May, 2011, 12:00am


The dangers of misusing and abusing antibiotics are well established. But the message obviously is not getting through, as the hundreds of deaths at our hospitals from drug-resistant infections prove. Better education and tighter controls are clearly needed. Getting the message across should not require a personal medical tragedy.

There are cardinal rules for taking antibiotics. They should not be used when they are not needed. And when they are necessary, every last pill of a course - usually five to seven days - should be taken as prescribed, regardless of how well the patient feels. But there are other lesser-known rules that are specific to particular types of drugs; these relate to diet and when they should be taken.

Studies show an alarming number of people are not following the basics. One, by Queen Mary Hospital's Department of Pharmacy, revealed that 20 per cent of chronically-ill patients surveyed did not take the prescribed dosage of antibiotics or finish the course. Another, by the government's Centre for Health Protection, determined that the drugs were freely available at Hong Kong's pharmacies without a doctor's prescription, as required by law. An investigation by this newspaper found this latter finding to be true - controlled drugs were handed across the counter without question.

Public health campaigns are not working as well as they should. The message of correct antibiotic use has to be reinforced by doctors and pharmacists. And pharmacy owners have to put community health ahead of profits. Better policing of the system and more appropriate penalties for abuse will quickly ensure this happens.

Health care is a joint effort between a patient, doctor and pharmacist. Each has to act responsibly; a breakdown at any point can have serious consequences. The surge of drug-resistant infections in our hospitals is proof that all is not well in Hong Kong. Rules have to be reinforced and toughened. We all have to do what is right.