Govt tries to head off feared superbug

08:23, February 17, 2011      

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China's top health authorities are launching a special national campaign this year to curb the rampant overuse of antibiotics over fears that the practice could unleash an explosion of drug-resistant superbugs.

As part of the campaign, provincial health authorities will be required to conduct spot checks in hospitals and call for an immediate correction if they find antibiotics are being abused.

Ma Xiaowei, vice-minister of health, said the Ministry of Health will organize special inspection teams and conduct unannounced visits in medical institutions across the nation.

Hospitals that are found to be overusing antibiotics will be named and shamed and related senior managers and doctors will get warnings or administrative punishments, Ma was quoted as saying on Wednesday by People's Daily.

He also said the ministry is drafting a regulation on how to manage the use of antibiotics in medical institutions.

"This is the first time for the ministry to launch a special campaign against the use of a certain kind of drug," said Professor Xiao Yonghong from the First Affiliated Hospital of the College of Medicine under Zhejiang University.

The campaign against the overuse of antibiotics comes at a time when China has been criticized for its alleged reckless use of antibiotics in both the healthcare system and agriculture.

Ministry statistics suggest the average rate of antibiotic use for preventive purposes in Chinese hospitals stands at 97 percent. In developed countries, the rate is 30 percent.

Only around 20 percent of Chinese patients are in need of antibiotic drugs. However, figures show that 70 percent of inpatients are prescribed them. The maximum number set by the World Health Organization is 30 percent.

"There are many problems with the clinical use of antibiotics in our hospitals," Xinhua News Agency quoted Ma as saying on Wednesday.

"The high frequency of antibiotics use and the large doses prescribed will likely cause bacteria to develop resistance."

Xiao said: "The primary consideration of doctors who prescribe antibiotic drugs is to protect themselves from being blamed for delaying treatment in case of a doctor-patient dispute."

Some patients wrongly believe that expensive antibiotics equate to good treatment, he added.

But he also attributed the fault on the fact that hospitals rely on selling medicine to make their income.

"Antibiotic drugs contribute 20 to 30 percent of a hospital's drug income," he said. "Antibiotics are so widely used because it is relatively safer than overusing other drugs, say, anticancer drugs."

By Cheng Yingqi, China Daily

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