My Take

How doctors are helping to spread deadly superbugs

For a long time now, we’ve known that the over-prescription of antibiotics is harming the public’s health; it’s time our well-trained medics join the global fight to tackle this serious issue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 2:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 5:03am

Local private doctors like to brag about how well-trained they are and the danger of substandard imported ones if the government is allowed to go ahead with such a scheme.

But judging by the general lack of discipline many have in prescribing antibiotics, it’s been an epic fail for the safety of the general public. If they can’t show a little professional restraint with such a well-known danger as drug-resistant bugs, you have to wonder if they really are as good as they claim.

Hong Kong doctors urged to run more tests before prescribing antibiotics, as superbugs on the rise

Now, they are being asked to report – voluntarily – on antibiotic prescriptions. It’s part of the government’s Strategy and Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, a five-year plan to fight superbugs. It looks like the problem can’t be ignored anymore.



Hong Kong has seen a fivefold increase since 2007 in cases of one particular drug-resistant superbug spreading across the community. About one in two public hospital patients suffering from Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) are found to be drug-resistant, compared with 10 per cent in Britain and less than 5 per cent in Sweden.

Henry Yeung Chiu-fat, president of the Hong Kong Doctors Union – an association of about 1,700 private medical practitioners – says physicians have already prescribed fewer antibiotics. Why? Because patients are showing greater awareness!

“Patients seem to show increasing awareness about antibiotics as they ask doctors whether it is necessary to take them,” he said. “Fewer patients request doctors to prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily, but of course the public still needs better awareness.”

Call for regulation after antibiotic resistant superbug found in 60 per cent of tested Hong Kong chickens

Shouldn’t the experts decide what drugs are necessary, rather than patients? I know exactly what he means, though. Practically every private doctor I have seen in Hong Kong has asked me, at one time or another, whether I want a course of antibiotics or not – thereby making it a choice for me rather than a judgment call for them.

We shouldn’t blame it all on local doctors. The rise of antibiotic resistance is a worldwide phenomenon. Our own Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, former director of the World Health Organisation, has called it a “slow-motion tsunami”.

Britain’s 2016 Review on Antimicrobial Resistance has projected a drastic rise in the number of worldwide deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections, from the current 700,000 a year to 10 million by 2050. Asia will be worst hit. While the projected numbers have been questioned, a World Bank study this year has reconfirmed the rising trend.

This is truly a global fight. Now if only our own esteemed doctors would join it.