Attitudes to overuse of antibiotics ‘slowly changing in UAE’

Awareness campaigns are helping to change attitudes in both doctors and patients, the Ministry of Health says.

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DUBAI // Attitudes towards the use of antibiotics in the UAE are changing but more needs to be done to educate patients and some health professionals on how they are used to ensure they remain effective, an official said.

Dr Amin Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health policy and licensing at the Ministry of Health, said some patients treated antibiotics like chocolate but, with public awareness campaigns, the attitudes of doctors and patients alike were changing.

Coinciding with Antibiotic Awareness Week, which runs until November 22, a study released by independent global researchers NPS MedicineWise shows that while fewer people are asking for antibiotics when they have a cold or flu, many still mistakenly believe they will aid their recovery from viruses.

The survey of 2,581 people aged 16 and above in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region revealed that 13 per cent would ask their doctor for antibiotics when they had a cold or flu, down from 17 per cent last year.

When asked if antibiotics would help them to recover from a cold or flu, 28 per cent incorrectly said that they would help and 36 per cent were unsure.

Dr Al Amiri said: “In the past, the quality of doctor was measured in some cases by how much medication he administered. People ... thought large volumes were good. Now, with our public awareness, we have changed that mentality.”

The ministry’s policy is that antibiotics should not be offered to patients by pharmacists without a doctor’s prescription, although some pharmacies continue to ignore this rule. Facilities flouting the regulations are first warned, then fined. Repeat offenders run the risk of having their licences suspended.

Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, so swab tests can be used to determine whether an infection is a result of bacteria or a virus, so the correct treatment can be offered.

The awareness week focuses attention on the problem of antibiotics becoming ineffective to treat infections as bacteria become resistant. Misuse and overuse of antibiotics is a key driver of antibiotic resistance.

Dr Al Amiri said that “six or seven years ago” pharmacies often issued antibiotics without a prescription, but strong action solved the problem in 95 per cent of cases.

“Another issue is where the doctor or patient insists on medication, like antibiotics, particularly if they have insurance or free hospita