South China Morning Post Letter to the Editor

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the defining global problems of our time.

Drug-resistant bacterial infections killed an estimated 1.27 million people in 2019. By 2050, 10 million lives annually could be lost to antimicrobial resistance, and annual global gross domestic product could fall by between 1.1 per cent and 3.8 per cent.

Fortunately, Chinese policymakers, physicians and patients have shown what is possible when they focus collective efforts on antimicrobial resistance. The unnecessary use of antibiotics in hospitals was significantly reduced following awareness campaigns in 2011. Moreover, the government’s recent push to limit sales of drugs treating Covid-19 symptoms made it harder for patients nationwide to self-medicate with antibiotics.

And China can do more. In the Global Coalition on Aging’s 2021 AMR Preparedness Index, China scored a paltry 37 on a 100-point scale. The report found that Chinese policy on antimicrobial resistance was weak in areas such as innovation and national strategy.

China could join the World Health Organization’s Global Antimicrobial Resistance and Use Surveillance System (GLASS) and commit to improving communication with the international community on surveillance and monitoring.

Along with these efforts, better enforcement of stewardship measures is essential, especially for unregulated pharmacies. In China, 84 per cent of pharmacies still provide antibiotics without prescriptions – and online purchases are on the rise.

Additionally, awareness campaigns can help people understand why they should avoid unnecessary antibiotics, uniting them around a public health cause. These campaigns can focus on certain populations where antibiotic overuse is especially common.

Finally, China’s burgeoning pharmaceutical industry could develop new antibiotics – an area that is drastically underfunded around the world. The government can support the revitalisation of the antimicrobial pipeline by implementing new policies or reforms that reward innovation, protect intellectual property, streamline patent processes and accelerate the timeline for approval.

If China can direct its ingenuity, resources and collective willpower towards antimicrobial resistance, the result will be important progress on a pressing collective problem with the highest stakes.

Ninie Wang, founder and CEO, Pinetree Care Group, and Mike Hodin, chief executive, Global Coalition on Aging

Source: South China Morning Post

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