Sale of antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines without prescription remains widespread in Zimbabwe, increasing the potential for overuse of the medicines by the public and medical professionals, research has shown.
By Phyllis Mbanje
Many people in Zimbabwe do not have access to formal health care because of poverty and a weak health system and so instead, seek care at private pharmacies and drug stores.
A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the problem “threatens the achievements of modern medicine”, especially when patients develop antibiotic resistance from overuse of the medicine.
It affects the body’s natural ability to fight infection and makes people more likely to develop infections, including more serious ones.
The study, published last month, stated that all types of microbes — including many viruses and parasites — were becoming resistant to medicines.
“Of particularly urgent concern is the development of bacteria that are progressively less treatable by available antibiotics,” said Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director-general for health security.
He called on countries to monitor antibiotic resistance, but noted that it would not be easy in many countries due to poor laboratory capacity, infrastructure and data management.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least two million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria every year and at least 23 000 people die as a result of those infections.
In his article, United Kingdom-based Zimbabwean general practitioner Brighton Chireka said many antibiotics were prescribed and used for mild infections when there was no need.
“Many people think they need antibiotics for a cold or cough. Antibiotics should not be used for simple coughs and colds. And patients should not expect their doctor to prescribe them,” Chireka said.
Bacteria can adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become “antibiotic resistant”, so that the antibiotic no longer works.
Another general practitioner, Tinashe Mundawarara, who operates his surgery from Medical Chambers in the Avenues, said people generally believed that an antibiotic was the only medication that would cure them.
“At times, I grapple with patients who actually instruct me to prescribe an antibiotic because they believe it works faster and while this is true, not all cases require one,” he said.
“These antibiotics are for treating important infections, but we are wasting them on situations where they are not needed at all,” he said.