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A pharmacist packs antibiotics and other medicines into bags at a Phnom Penh pharmacy in 2014.
A pharmacist packs antibiotics and other medicines into bags at a Phnom Penh pharmacy in 2014. Pha Lina

Antimicrobial program begins

The Ministry of Health yesterday launched a nationwide program aimed at holding back the spread of drug-resistant diseases.

Microbes are continuing to evolve resistance to drugs at an alarming rate all over the world, often due to the unsupervised and inappropriate use of antimicrobials, health experts say.

The problem is particularly pronounced in Cambodia, where studies have shown that up to 55 per cent of subjects are resistant to certain drugs.

The new program, established at the urging of the World Health Organization, will seek to address antimicrobial overuse, promote infection control and set up more research on infection.

While Cambodia is one of very few Asia-Pacific countries to initiate such a program, according to the WHO, its health system and knowledge base lag behind many of its neighbours, and many Cambodians don’t know that the misuse of antimicrobials can cause germs to become untreatable.

“These people are buying drugs from a guy on a moto . . . They don’t even know what they’re taking,” said Dr Alex Costa, a technical officer at the WHO’s disease surveillance unit here.

“And the amount they take depends on how much money they have or until they feel better,” instead of completing a regime.

Failing to complete antimicrobial courses, or taking medicine of substandard quality, is what allows diseases ranging from gonorrhoea to tuberculosis to steadily develop resistance to drugs, Costa said.

What’s more, he continued, disease resistance in microbes is exacerbated by the misuse of antimicrobials in livestock, which accounts for about 80 per cent of the world’s usage, and Cambodia currently has no information about the pattern of drug use in food-producing animals.

Misuse often occurs when drugs are taken or administered unsupervised, and the Health Ministry is seeking to prevent antimicrobial use without a doctor’s prescription, said ministry spokesman Ly Sovann.

Sovann said that the new program will include public education, research both on diseases and public behaviour, a focus on infection prevention and control at health centres, the creation of more biology labs, and medicine quality control.

TV and radio broadcasts, billboards and health centre staff will try to steer the public away from bad habits regarding medication.

“If they have a runny nose, they want antibiotics,” said Ysa Niva, a Phnom Penh pharmacist. “I try to tell them how to use the medicine, but I think some of them don’t listen.”

According to the WHO, surveillance on medicine use patterns and drug quality will be essential to get the data needed to drive the new policy, and Costa yesterday said the government, the health industry and the public will have to work together to provide that data. However, he noted, the program has significant budgetary shortfalls.

The Health Ministry could not provide the final budget yesterday, but Sovann said that he expected support from international donors. “It’s a global problem,” he said.

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