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Thursday, September 3, 1998 Published at 23:58 GMT 00:58 UK


Poverty aids rise of superbugs

Poverty exacerbates the problems of drug-resistant antibiotics

Poverty is exacerbating the problems of drug-resistant bugs in developing countries, according to new research.

Overcrowding in hospitals, poor hygiene and lack of resources for infection control contribute to the rise of the new superbugs, according to an article in the British Medical Journal.

The overprescription of antibiotics is also a factor.

Lack of money for diagnostic facilities in laboratories leads doctors to overprescribe antibiotics.

In many countries, the use of the drugs is unregulated and people can buy them from chemists and other shops.

This makes it more difficult to ensure patients take the full course of drugs as they may only buy the amount of antibiotics they can afford.

Failure to take a full course of antibiotics can result in bacteria developing resistance to treatment.

Also, the quality of some antibiotics manufactured in developing countries can vary.

Fewer options

Developing countries are also less likely to be able to afford the newer antibiotics, leaving them with fewer options if a bug develops resistance to the usual treatments.

Over recent years, a range of infections, including pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis and typhoid, have developed resistance to some antibiotics.

Experts report a rise in the number of cases of pneumonia which is resistant to treatment with penicillin.

A recent global survey showed 9.9% of cases involving one strain of tuberculosis were resistant to treatment by at least one frontline drug.

The researchers say they do not wish to give the impression that developing countries "are awash with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics".

But they do not want people to become smug.


They call for more resources to be put into developing diagnostic facilities in developing countries, greater regulation of antibiotic use and better education of the public, vets and doctors.

European doctors are also worried about the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, which do not respect borders.

The British Medical Journal says many of the conditions, such as overcrowding of hospitals due to pressures on health budgets, which facilitate their spread also exist in Europe.

Next week, chief medical officers of the European Union are meeting in Copenhagen to discuss the problem.

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