Wed | Apr 24, 2019

Antibiotic alarm - Tufton warns drug resistance will make diseases incurable, leading to death

Published:Wednesday | November 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis/Gleaner Writer
Dr Christopher Tufton (second right), minister of health, listens keenly to Dr Osbil Watson (right), chief veterinary officer at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF), during the launch of World Antibiotic Week. Looking on are: Dr Audrey Morris (left), food and nutrition advisor, PAHO/WHO, and Dr Alison Nicholson (second left), head of microbiology at the University of the West Indies. The launch was held at the MICAF offices in St Andrew yesterday.

The misuse and overuse of antibiotics by Jamaicans is costing the Government millions of dollars. However, while the financial implications are of concern, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton said certain diseases could become untreatable and lead to death if the abuse of antibiotics continues.

"What we are facing is a situation where diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhoea, which became curable with the discovery of antibiotics, could become incurable. Already we are seeing people develop multi-drug resistance to tuberculosis globally, while drug resistance is complicating the fight against HIV and malaria," said Tufton.

Many bacteria have now become resistant to antibiotics, which have led to the rise of what is known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Making his remarks at the launch of World Antibiotic Awareness Week at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries in

St Andrew yesterday, Tufton said in one hospital in Jamaica last year, the additional cost of a single outbreak of a multi-drug resistant organism was $4.8 million.

Data from a survey conducted by the National Survey of the Knowledge, Attitudes and Prescribing Practices of Doctors Regarding Resistance in a Caribbean Country revealed that:

• Eighty per cent of Jamaicans reported sharing antibiotics.

• Fifty per cent thought the same antibiotic worked for all infections.

• While only 50 percent thought the course of antibiotics should be finished.




Head of microbiology at the University of the West Indies, Dr Alison Nicholson, highlighted the magnitude of the problem faced when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

"I sat in the lab looking at a culture plate of a urine sample taken from a 40-odd-year-old lady and I literally felt chills going down my spine, as I saw that an organism was growing on it that was resistant to 21 of the 22 antibiotics tested against it, and the one antibiotic it was sensitive to would not have worked in real life. This is a scary prospect," said Nicholson.

The issue also extends to farmers and the food industry, with the World Health Organization recommending that they no longer use antibiotics to help reduce the threat of AMR.

"Antimicrobial drugs are also used to treat diseases in animals and plants, as well as in farming to boost production. The result is that they can end up in the environment, in water and waste from health facilities and farms and sometimes even in our food," said Tufton.

Jamaica is taking a multisectoral approach to tackling the challenge. The week of activities, under the theme 'Antibiotic Stewardship: A Call to Action!', running from November 11-16, is intended to help increase awareness of AMR.