HK urged to lead fight against superbugs
April 8, 2011
A leading European specialist in the global fight against superbugs yesterday called on Hong Kong to use its unique experience in fighting bird flu and Sars to lead Asia's campaign against the misuse of antibiotics.
"Hong Kong has been very successful in the containment of H5N1 and [severe acute respiratory syndrome]. I'm sure you will be equally successful in the containment of antibiotic resistance," said Herman Goossens, a Belgian professor who is visiting the city to raise awareness about superbugs.
Goossens, founder and vice-chairman of the Belgian Antibiotic Policy Co-ordination Committee, warned that, with the advance of superbugs like NDM-1, most antibiotics could become useless within five years if steps were not taken to curb their over- and misuse.
What Belgium was doing in Europe was an example for the rest of the European countries. Hong Kong hopefully would be an example for the rest of Asia, Goossens said.
His appeal came as Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection released the results of a survey which found dangerous misconceptions about antibiotics were widely held.
About one in three Hong Kong people believe antibiotics can cure flu and two in three think they can treat viral infections - beliefs that could increase the city's vulnerability to the rapid proliferation of incurable superbugs. The dangers of abusing antibiotics are well-publicised yet the survey found that only half of the respondents said they had heard of the concept of antibiotic resistance, which led to evolution of superbugs such as NDM-1.
Since its discovery in India in 2008, NDM-1 has spread to countries including the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada. In October, China confirmed its first three cases of NDM-1. A British study released this week found the deadly superbug in a quarter of water samples taken from the streets of New Delhi,
The situation prompted the World Health Organisation to dedicate yesterday's World Health Day to promoting the sensible use of antibiotics, after it warned that "diseases due to antibacterial resistance" would be a leading threat this decade.
The WHO estimates that at least 150,000 people die every year from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis - which cannot be treated by even the best drugs. Some 440,000 new cases emerge each year in 64 countries.
"Misconceptions happen every day," said Dr Choi Kin, president of the Hong Kong Medical Association. "We have patients insisting on antibiotics and we have patients insisting on not taking antibiotics when they should be taking them."
Although parents were often cautious if doctors tried to prescribe antibiotics to their children, there were still doctors who were keen on prescribing them, Choi said.
Goossens led a campaign in Belgium over the past 10 years educating the public and doctors on how to use fewer antibiotics.
The campaign has proved to be a success. Resistance to antibiotics from pneumonia-causing bacteria dropped by up to 11 per cent within a decade, says the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Following Belgium's lead, European countries, the US and Canada have all developed similar campaigns.