Healthcare

China ‘not badly hit’ as sexually transmitted disease risks becoming untreatable, says health expert

Developed countries have more to worry about growing drug resistance to gonorrhoea

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 11:22am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 12:24pm

China has not been hit as badly as developed countries by growing drug resistance to gonorrhoea, a Chinese health expert has said following the World Health Organisation’s recent release of new guidelines for treating the venereal disease.

The WHO guidelines have prompted fears that doctors are running out of effective drugs for gonorrhoea as patients grow resistant to cephalosporins, considered the right drug to treat the disease.

But despite China having a history of severe antibiotics abuse, the country actually suffers less severe resistance to cephalosporins than in developed countries.

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“We have much lower drug resistance rate – about 5 per cent – to cephalosporins, which can free us from the fear that gonorrhoea will be beyond treatment for the time being,” said Xiao Yonghong, a professor at the Institute of Clinical Pharmacology at Peking University and a member of the National Health and Family Planning Commission’s rational drug use committee.

Facing the growing threat of antibiotics resistance, the WHO recently released new guidelines for the treatment of three common sexually transmitted diseases, leaving one of them, gonorrhoea, with fewer treatment options.

The new guidelines no longer recommend quinolone antibiotic treatment of gonorrhoea, because drug resistance has developed globally.

It also noted increased resistance to cephalosporins, the recommended first-line treatment in the last version of guidelines.

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That does not mean China can breathe a sigh of relief as antibiotic resistance generally is very severe in China, Xiao said.

The Global Review on AMR, or antimicrobial resistance, a report commissioned by the former UK prime minister David Cameron and released in May, said 50 per cent of the antibiotics employed in the world are used in China, with 52 per cent of them used as supplements for animals bred for food. The report also estimated that by 2050, AMR could result in 1 million premature deaths each year in China alone.

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Beijing last month has expanded its fight against antibiotics abuse from the health sector and issued an action plan involving 14 central government agencies, including the health and family planning commission and agriculture ministry.

The plan pledges that, by 2020, China will develop new antibiotics, make sales of the drugs by prescription only and be available only in half the number of retail pharmacies. Surveillance of human and animal use will be boosted by a national monitoring network covering all medical institutions, while more training and education will be provided to medical professionals and the general public.

Although the action plan does not provide details of funding for new antibiotics, Xiao said the government was very likely to step forward so reaching the target should be highly possible, Xiao said.

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Private drugmakers are reluctant to develop new antibiotics because resistance makes the drugs less lucrative on top of the huge cost of developing new pharmaceuticals.

Government input would help solve such concerns, Xiao said.

Gonorrhoea is treatable with antibiotics, but has become more difficult to treat as it has progressively grown resistance to drugs.

China saw a climbing incidence rate of the illness in the 1990s until it peaked in 1999 with 27.54 per 100,000 people reporting infection. It then declined steadily to 7.25 per 100,0000 people in 2014, with more developed area such as the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta showing a much higher infection rate than other regions.