With the rise of COVID-19, common symptoms that we often brush off are put in the spotlight. The implications are severe since a simple cough can now mean hospitalization, isolation of the whole household, or worse, loss of a loved one.
Online consultations have spiked due to the demand for better care. Now more than ever, the need for more modern and convenient medical attention has exposed gaping holes in the health care system.
This fear during the pandemic, fuelled by the lack of access to medical care, widespread testing, effective preventive measures, and a definite cure early on, drove patients and doctors alike to cling to anything that can resolve these symptoms as soon as possible; pressuring patients to self-medicate and physicians to overprescribe with antibiotics, among other treatment options.
Antibiotic Resistance at the Height of COVID-19
As it turns out, less than 10% of hospitalized COVID-19 infections required antibiotic treatment, exposing the reality that a broken health care system can lead to higher resistance of patients to antibiotics.
It would have been simpler to blame this problem on the long-standing practice of using antibiotics without prescriptions or on the old practice of medicine that allowed dispensing antibiotics left and right.
But a closer examination of what enabled these activities reveals that, much like everything else in medicine, the root of the problem involves a number of factors.
Antimicrobial Resistance in the Philippines
Inadequate food and water coupled with poor sanitation facilities, especially in developing countries like ours, promote malnutrition and transmission of infectious diseases.
The lack of access to health services from vaccination, screening, and immediate treatment weakens our defences against infection, causes a delay in treatment, allows infections to get worse, and provides a window for self-medication.
Even if online consultation is available, treatment may not be completed as instructed due to financial constraints or the misconception that the infection has already cleared once symptoms have resolved. This repeated cycle led to severe infections requiring the strongest antimicrobials.
Without the approval of new drugs with significant action against multi-drug resistant organisms in the past years, inadequate support for ongoing development of new ones, and the increased use of antibiotics in animal husbandry to minimize environmental impact, this limited resource is rapidly running out, holding us back in the race to combat the rise of superbugs.
How the Increased Intake of Antimicrobials Has Affected Public Health
Antimicrobial resistance is not a new concept. It has been present since the 1940s when we started using medications to treat infections whether bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic.
It occurs when these organisms can no longer be killed by the medications considered as the first-line treatment or standard of care, which serves as their natural response to survive.
What is unnatural however is how we are speeding up this process as a community. Globally, an increasing number of easily managed infections such as urinary tract infection and bacterial pneumonia are becoming difficult to treat already.
More difficult ones such as tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, and candidiasis are also becoming even more challenging to address. These translate to a greater risk of complications, longer and more costly hospital stay, and a higher risk of death from supposedly treatable conditions.
The lack of effective antibiotic treatment would render newer medical technologies useless. It especially affects the immunocompromised, those to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, or organ transplant defenceless against severe infection.
Unfortunately, these do not seem enough for governments to act.
Scientists have sounded the alarm, with the impact of antimicrobial resistance on public health likened to the impact of climate change on the world. The World Health Organization even recognized it as one of the top 10 public health threats against humanity.
International efforts have been started on research, documentation, surveillance, and policy evaluation since 2015.
Parameters for monitoring have even been included in the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite these, little improvement has been felt.
How We Can Fight This Health Crisis
As reflected in the pandemic, health continues to be a privilege, leaving those already vulnerable to disease unprotected.
There should be global collective action to address the root of this problem, which is the improvement of our healthcare system. A gigantic task, but we can start by choosing leadership that puts health as a priority and recognizes it as a right.
This way, funding can be allocated to:
- The development of needed medications, such as antibiotics, even if they are not profitable
- Technologies that allow surveillance of existing infections at a greater capacity so that we can prepare ahead
- More efficient diagnostic tools that can identify diseases faster
- Strengthening preventive measures such as ensuring clean water, adequate food supply, and vaccines to decrease our risk for infections,
- Adequate healthcare workers and facilities nationwide
This will also allow the implementation of policies to safeguard antibiotic use. In the best-case scenario, this will lead to a free, national, public health care system that will provide free and accessible services and treatment for all.
In Health, Less is More
Proposed solutions will take some time to be noticed and to materialize. So, while we continue to call for these changes, let us start with little steps that can help build this culture of health.
Doctors should continue to raise awareness of antibiotic resistance and practice antimicrobial supervision. Patients should think twice before popping a pill without medical advice and commit to completing the treatment regimen as instructed.
The right medication at the right dose and taken for the right duration will allow us to maximize the efficacy of the available drugs.
Let us keep in mind the health of even those to come after us and give them a fighting chance against superbug infections by doing something now. When it comes to antibiotic use, less abuse will mean more protection.
Learn how to protect yourself from drug resistance by seeing a medical professional. Let us help. Eva Teleconsult provides you with a 30-minute consultation to properly assess your condition with the top and caring doctors. Book your teleconsultation today and take action for a better quality of life.