Science » Technologies and discoveries

Serious Health Threat - misuse of medicines

UN conference targets misuse and overuse of medicines.
Public health records in both developing and developed countries show that misuse of medicines poses a serious health threat. Half of the medicines prescribed around the world are misused or overused, which can lead to resistance to drugs or death.

Not only does a lack of access to medicine pose a serious threat - also, a lack of knowledge as to how to use them when they are available can be just as deadly.

The World Health Organization and several NGOs have been taking part in a Conference at Chiang Mai, Thailand, on how to address the problem, which is causing concern across the globe.

Medicines are often either taken in excess, or treatment is prematurely interrupted, typically during courses of antibiotics - when the patient feels better, the medication is suspended. This can lead to drug resistance, when a drug is administered but has no effect, or to serious drug allergy, either of which can cause death.

Jonathan Quick, President of Management Sciences for Health, and co-sponsor of the conference, stated that "Misuse of antibiotics, overuse of injections, and under-use of life-extending drugs for illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease and other chronic illnesses together constitute a global epidemic". This costs millions of lives every year.

AIDS patients are often drugs users. They start a course of treatment but interrupt to go back to drugs, then restart the treatment, making themselves Petrie dishes for cultures of viruses and bacteria, a process which can give rise to multi-resistant tuberculosis, for example. The strain they can pass
on to others, by coughing in a bus or on a train, is the multi-resistant form.

WHO statistics paint an alarming picture. In Nigeria, 60% of antibiotics are wrongly prescribed. 80 countries record resistance to the drug chloroquine, the main treatment for malaria, due to excessive use. 98% of gonorrhoea patients in some countries are resistant to penicillin.

Not only is availability a must, but also educational programmes to teach people not to play the doctor at home when they know nothing about the consequences of their actions.

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