Malawi has a antibiotics crisis — and it’s threatening to spiral out of control unless something drastic is done.
The BBC Life Clinic reports that as more bacteria become drug resistant, Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, faces yet another health challenge that doctors in the country say is making their work “increasingly difficult.”
Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria stops responding to medicine, leading to higher medical costs, longer stays in hospitals, and potentially even death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In Malawi, Dr Watipaso Kasambara told the BBC, the problem is exasperated by three issues.
“Patients take antibiotics anyhow,” said Kasambara, the Malawi co-ordinator on antimicrobial resistance (AMR). “They self-medicate themselves when they feel or sick or have a fever.”
She said that in Malawi, anyone can just walk into a pharmacy to buy antibiotics without a prescription note from a doctor.
“All of us are to blame. We have in one way or the other accelerated the problem and we have contributed to increasing rates of antibiotic resistance,” she says, adding that Malawi’s lax healthcare act makes it possible to for pharmacists to sell “dangerous drugs.”
“The act is vague and doesn’t prosecute people who are selling antibiotics (and) other drugs which are dangerous...a person can just get (them) off the counter,” she explained. “It’s so wrong.”
Antibiotic resistance affects everyone, no matter their age or gender — and the potential outcome paints a grim picture.
In fact, AMR is one of the top 10 global health threats named by the WHO, with 300 million people expected to die early as a result of drug resistance in the next 35 years according to a Review on Antimicrobial Resistance published in December 2014.
"A growing issue in global health is that of antimicrobial resistance — antibiotics are becoming less effective," reads the report. "The world is not developing medications fast enough to solve the issue, which means that sicknesses that were once easily treatable could eventually lead to death.”
Another report, by the U.S-based National Center for Biotechnology Information, says that even though life-threatening infections are a major challenge for health system in developing countries, many of them, Malawi included, don’t have the capacity to provide routine testing.
“In Malawi, a typical sub-Saharan African country, routine microbiologic culture and sensitivity testing are not performed due to lack of personnel, equipment, and financial resources,” the report states, “Instead, antimicrobial therapy is empirical and a small repertoire of antimicrobials is overused. This approach, although relatively inexpensive, leads to the emergence of antibiotic resistance.”
The public health institute of Malawi issued a statement in 2017 acknowledging that antimicrobial resistance is a “public health risk.”
The institute has a national AMR strategy aimed at preventing and controlling infections. But, without stricter laws regulating how people access and use medication, Kasambara told the BBC, the challenge will persist.