Pile of colorful medicine pills and capsules in blister packs

Research from the University of the Witwatersrand School of Public Health and the London School of Economics shows that doctors and nurses play a critical role in preventing patients from becoming resistant to antibiotics.

A new study published in March 2019 found that in South Africa, 78% of patients visiting public clinics and 67% of patients visiting private GPs received antibiotics – even when it wasn’t the right medicine for their conditions.

Taking antibiotics incorrectly leads to increased resistance

“The persistent overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human and animal health has led to widespread resistance to it, rendering many of our best antibiotics useless, with few new antibiotics on the market to replace them,” said Discovery Health’s Dr Roshini Moodley Naidoo.

“Misuse of antibiotics allows the bacteria that cause illness to become resistant to the antibiotic drugs used to treat it. By misuse, I mean cases where antibiotics are dispensed to people with viral infections like colds and flu,” she explained.

Incorrect perceptions around antibiotics

Dr Dena van den Bergh, Honorary Lecturer in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Medicine, said: “Our studies have shown that 76% of private sector patients mistakenly think that antibiotic resistance refers to the human body becoming resistant to antibiotics, not understanding that it’s in fact the bacteria that cause illness that become resistant.

“We also found 32% of patients went to the doctor specifically to obtain an antibiotic – before they even knew that they had a bacterial infection. And, 43% of patients thought new antibiotics would be discovered soon, so even if we overuse the ones we have now, they will be replaced. That’s a very alarming and incorrect perception.”

Vaccines: patients’ best protection against flu

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that people older than 65 years and those with certain chronic medical conditions have a seasonal flu vaccine.

“Vaccines against influenza should be patients’ first defence against the virus – not antibiotics,” said Discovery Health’s Dr Noluthando Nematswerani. The influenza vaccine is 60% effective in preventing hospitalisation, and up to 89% effective in preventing particularly severe cases of influenza.

“Discovery Health encourages doctors and nurses to explain the need for an annual flu vaccine to patients, especially to high-risk members and their families,” Dr Moodley Naidoo added.

“It is fundamental that South Africans understand when an antibiotic is really necessary to take, if it is necessary, and how it should be taken. The survival of the human race depends on our understanding when and where antibiotics are appropriate – and that they cannot treat the flu and other viral infections.”

*Article supplied by Discovery Health

Discovery Health Medical Scheme is an independent non-profit entity governed by the Medical Schemes Act and regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes. It is administered by a separate company, Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, an authorised financial services provider.