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Med resistance a threat to SE Asia

A person packs individual pills including antibiotics into medication packages at a pharmacy in Phnom Penh earlier this year
A person packs individual pills including antibiotics into medication packages at a pharmacy in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Pha Lina

Med resistance a threat to SE Asia

In line with the global trend of infections becoming increasingly resistant to even the strongest medications, Asia’s once powerful antibiotics are being rendered ineffective by misuse, ASEAN experts warned yesterday.

Gathered at a conference in Bangkok this week, health professionals pressed the need for a regional plan to immediately address the growing body of drug-resistant germs.

“Resistance is a very big problem for Cambodia,” So Pha from the Cambodia Department of Communicable Disease, said at the conference. “It is very difficult to control medication in Cambodia; there are pharmacies everywhere … and most Cambodians buy medication for themselves at a pharmacy without permission from a doctor.”

Antimicrobial resistance – where a bacteria, virus, fungus or parasite develops the ability to combat medicine it was previously sensitive to – is a consequence of such misuse of antimicrobial medicines.

“When a medicine is taken improperly and there isn’t enough in the blood to kill the bacteria, the bacteria can grow to recognise the drug, and then adapt to resist it,” said Dr Chou Monidarin, vice dean of the faculty of pharmacy at the University of Health Science in Phnom Penh.

Resistance has become an increasingly serious problem in every country in the world, according to the World Health Organization’s recently released global survey on resistance, the first of its kind.

“Antimicrobial resistance [AMR] is possibly the single biggest threat facing the world in the area of infectious diseases,” the WHO said during a workshop in Phnom Penh in May.

Resistant pathogens haven’t always been a problem. When fluoroquinolones, a broadly applicable class of antibiotics, were marketed to counter E. coli in the 1980s, resistance was virtually zero.

Now, up to 82 per cent of Cambodia’s E coli have grown resistant to the medication, according to the WHO survey. Similar results were found among several other types of antibiotics.

“At the individual level, AMR reduces the effectiveness of treatment leading to prolonged illness. A longer illness leads to a lengthier hospital stay, higher treatment costs, and increases risk of death”, said Alex Costa, a WHO technical officer.

In Thailand, about 38,000 people die as a result of AMR each year, according to official statistics. No such data exists for Cambodia, where the extent of the AMR burden is largely unknown, a problem the government intends to fix by next year.

“We have to start with strengthening surveillance,” said Ly Sovann, director of public health.

“If antibiotics are lost, the lives of the people are at risk.”

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