Hong Kong doctors asked to report antibiotics use amid global superbug crisis
Voluntary scheme part of government action to tackle overprescription in city
Hong Kong’s private doctors will be asked to report the use of antibiotics under a comprehensive government action plan to tackle overprescription and the proliferation of superbugs.
The move to get a grip on the problem that the World Health Organisation is calling a “global crisis” comes as Hong Kong has seen a five-fold increase since 2007 in cases of one particular drug-resistant superbug spreading in the community.
However, the reporting of antibiotic usage through the existing electronic health record system shared by doctors and the government will be voluntary, and no punishment is in store for offenders, raising doubts about the effectiveness of this approach.
“Apart from the electronic system, we will also consider looking at past medical records or collecting prescriptions from doctors,” the Centre for Health Protection said.
The plan is part of the cross-departmental Hong Kong Strategy and Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, which lays out the city’s five-year plan to fight superbugs.
The government also plans to ban farmers in two years’ time from giving antibiotics to animals bred for food unless they are prescribed by vets. It will then scrap a specific permit that currently allows farmers to purchase and use antibiotics.
Private vets have been invited to provide diagnostic and prescription services to 29 local chicken farms and 43 pig farms, among others. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said training would be provided to vets.
Farmers will also be required to keep records of antibiotic usage, but again there are no legal provisions to penalise those who fail to comply.
The AFCD will also conduct a consultancy study to understand the formation and transmission of superbugs in local farms.
“Now we only focus on testing of chemical residues in internal organs or meat of animals ... but not antimicrobials,” the department said, adding that it would also consider helping livestock farms to improve hygiene by relocating.
Doctors Union president Henry Yeung Chiu-fat said a voluntary reporting system would “help a little” in monitoring the overall usage of antibiotics, but it was more important for the government to stop its overuse among animals bred for food.
“Patients seem to show increasing awareness about antibiotics as they ask doctors whether it is necessary to take them,” Yeung said. “Fewer patients request doctors to prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily, but of course the public still needs better awareness.”
Lee Leung-kei, a local chicken farmer for more than 30 years, said he did not object to the regulation of antibiotics but worried about the vets’ knowledgeability.
“I haven’t seen any vets in Hong Kong who know how to treat chicken or pigs,” he said. “Now the vets we see are mainly for pets.”
Lee suggested the government grant subsidies to farmers to pay vets for services, and he welcomed a possible plan to relocate farms, saying the move might allow him to expand his farm and introduce modern hygiene management tools.
Additional reporting by Emily Tsang