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Date posted: March 16, 2013

Bacteria are defying the most powerful medicines of all time. Is India ready for a world without antibiotics?

50 per cent antibiotics are overused and misused by physicians and patients globally.

70 per cent ICU patients surveyed in India carry bacteria immune to multiple antibiotics.

30 per cent infants die in India each year from germs that do not respond to antibiotics.

95 per cent rise in pneumonia, blood and wound infections in last 10 years in India; cannot be cured by last-resort drugs.

The hidden epidemic is upon us, says health economist Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Washington-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP). He has been preparing economic models of ABR for the last 16 years. “You must have noticed doctors now give longer courses and that antibiotics are becoming more expensive. That shows ABR is rising,” he says. He entered the new field of “resistance economics” in 1996, fascinated by the stories he heard from his teachers. “Say, how the excessive use of penicillin on Vietnamese sex workers by US military troops to prevent gonorrhea made it totally resistant.” But it was not until 10 years later that he started meeting people with ABR from simple injuries. “It has grown exponentially in the last 5-6 years. We are on a steep curve.”

Wattal blames the lack of focus on ABR in medical curricula: “Most doctors prescribe antibiotics in a knee-jerk reaction to any infection, which may not even be needed.” Doctors have to take responsibility, feels Dr Raja Dhar, chest physician at Fortis Hospital in Kolkata. The reason most patients develop resistance is injudicious use of antibiotics, incorrect regimens, inappropriate addition-deletion of drugs, lack of compliance with medications, he says. “And doctors play a crucial role in shaping patient mindsets.”

We have blindly adopted Western medicine instead of home grown traditional medicine systems which not only treat the symptom but treat the root cause in a better way. Unfortunately we look for quick fixes and the result is now showing! The only ones making profit are the Pharma companies producing these drugs. For a large and diverse country like India, reliance on locally grown medicine systems is the long term answer.

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