WHO reveals 'dangerous' misuse of antibiotics across the world as it lists the countries using too many, too few or the wrong types of medicines

Experts say prescribing too many or too few medications can be damaging

Wednesday 14th November 2018 07:45 EST

‘Urgent’ action is needed to tackle the global misuse of antibiotics, the World Health Organization today warned.

The UN body has compared data from 65 countries to reveal the nations which dish the drugs out the most and least often.

Doctors in Mongolia are guilty of prescribing the most antibiotics per person, according to the WHO analysis. At the other end of the scale, Burundi in Africa had the lowest rate.

Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fuelling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.

And countries using too many, too few, or the wrong types of antibiotics may all be adding to the risk of medicines becoming less effective against common illnesses.

'The large difference in antibiotic use worldwide indicates that some countries are probably overusing antibiotics,' the World Health Organization warned.

'While other countries may not have sufficient access to these life-saving medicines.'

There is a need to 'take urgent action, such as enforcing prescription-only policies, to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics,' said Suzanne Hill, the head of the WHO's essential medicines unit.

The WHO, which wrote the report, warned that both too many antibiotics or not enough can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Europe has an average of 18 defined daily doses per 1,000 people – whereas Mongolia has more than 64.

This suggests a figure which is too high, overuse of medicines allows bacteria and viruses to get used to the constantly-used drugs.

But in Burundi, near the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the rate is just 4.4 daily doses – suggesting people don't have enough access to medicines.

Not having enough can be just as damaging because people may only take half a course, meaning what's left of the infection will learn to survive.

Ms Hill added: 'Overuse and misuse of antibiotics are the leading causes of antimicrobial resistance. Without effective antibiotics and other antimicrobials, we will lose our ability to treat common infections like pneumonia.'

Other countries with particularly high use of antibiotics are Iran, with 39 daily doses per 1,000 people, Turkey with 38, Sudan with 35 and Greece with 33.

The data is incomplete and only includes 65 countries, with the US, Australia, China and India left out.

The most commonly used drug worldwide is amoxicillin – a member of the penicillin family, which is the first line of defence but can already be resisted by bacterial infections like MRSA.

And some countries are more guilty than others of readily using back-up medicines, which are stronger versions supposed to be saved for when frontline drugs fail.

Italy, Spain and Japan are heavy users of these drugs, which the WHO says need to be preserved for future use.

In Italy, two per cent of all antibiotics given are taken from the 'reserve' category, more than six times as many as in Britain, where the figure is just 0.3 per cent.

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