Prime minister Narendra Modi using his Mann ki Baat radio address to warn against faulty and unnecessary intake of antibiotics is pertinent for a country where, annually, some 58,000 neonatal deaths—as per a PLOS Medicine study—can be attributed to sepsis resistant to first-generation antibiotics. For some diseases, resistance has galloped—fluoroquinolone resistance in Salmonella typhii, the bacteria that causes typhoid rose from 8% in 2008 to 24% in 2014 while carbapenem resistance in Klebsiella pneumoniae, the pathogen behind one of the most common hospital-acquired infections, increased from 2% to 52% between 2002 and 2009. Meanwhile, the same PLOS study finds that Indians remain one of the largest consumer of antibiotics—in 2010, the country’s per capita antibiotic consumption was 10.7 units versus China’s 7.5 units. Public attitude towards proper use of antibiotics is thus a major concern—a 2011 WHO study showed that 53% of Indians were taking antibiotics without a prescription.
While antibiotic overuse in India can be traced to cheap medicines and the non-availability of doctors—India has just one doctor for every 2,000 patients—the country’s poor show on basic public health measures is also to blame. The immunisation rate in India is 72%, compared with Brazil’s 95% and China’s 99%. The prime minister thus rightly flagged the issue. Campaigns to educate people on the dangers of unnecessary use of antibiotics and reduced dependence on anti-microbial growth promoters for livestock—which is also a potent source of antibiotic resistance—could perhaps help curb the menace.