China’s health service facing increasing problem from antibiotic resistance, warns expert

When the World Health Organisation recently released new guidelines for treating gonorrhoea, prompting fears that the venereal disease might run out of effective drugs to treat it, China instead may find itself with more time to tackle the problem.

Despite having a history of severe antibiotics abuse, China suffers less severe drug resistance to cephalosporins, considered the right drug to treat gonorrhoea by the WHO, than in developed countries.

“We have much lower drug resistance rate, about 5 per cent, to cephalosporins, which can free us from the fear that gonorrhoea will be beyond treatment for the time being,” said Xiao Yonghong, a professor at the Institute of Clinical Pharmacology at Peking University and a member of the National Health and Family Planning Commission’s rational drug use committee.

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Facing the growing threat of antibiotics resistance, WHO released new guidelines for the treatment of three commonly sexually transmitted diseases, and one of which, gonorrhoea, has been left with fewer treatment options.

The new WHO guideline no longer recommends quinolone antibiotic treatments of gonorrhoea, because drug resistance has developed globally. The new guidelines also note decreased susceptibility of cephalosporins, which was the recommended first-line treatment in the last version of guidelines, has increased.

That does not mean China can breathe a sigh of relief as antibiotic resistance generally is very severe in China, Xiao said.

The Global Review on AMR, or antimicrobial resistance, a report commissioned by the former UK prime minister David Cameron and released in May, said 50 per cent of the antibiotics employed in the world are used in China, with 52 per cent of them used as supplements for animals bred for food. The report also estimated that by 2050, AMR could result in 1 million premature deaths each year in China alone.

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Beijing last month has expanded its fight against antibiotics abuse from the health sector and issued an action plan involving 14 central government agencies, including the health and family planning commission and agriculture ministry.

The plan pledges that, by 2020, China will develop new antibiotics, make sales of the drugs by prescription only and be available only in half the number of retail pharmacies. Surveillance of human and animal use will be boosted by a national monitoring network covering all medical institutions, while more training and education will be provided to medical professionals and the general public.

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Although the action plan does not provide details of funding for new antibiotics, Xiao said the government was very likely to step forward so reaching the target should be highly possible, Xiao said.

Private drugmakers are reluctant to develop new antibiotics because resistance makes the drugs less lucrative on top of the huge cost of developing new pharmaceuticals.

Government input would help solve such concerns, Xiao said.