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Publicise antibiotics usage data for humans and livestock, says Hong Kong committee tackling superbugs

Drawing up a five-year plan and requiring doctors and livestock farmers to state how much antibiotics have been used are among proposals floated by government advisers to tackle the city’s superbug problem.

The calls came as a group of experts under the high-level Steering Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance met for the first time yesterday for discussions.

This follows a worrying trend on the number of cases involving a drug-resistant superbug – public hospitals reported in April a sevenfold increase in five years.

Time is running out for action on reckless misuse of antibiotics

In March, the Consumer Council also urged the city’s nine major food chains to stop buying meat from farms feeding animals with antibiotics – one of the major sources of superbug transmission to humans.

Local efforts in curbing the use of antibiotics on livestock remained less significant as most meat in Hong Kong is imported.

Professor Peter Borriello, chief executive officer of Britain’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and one of the committee’s experts, said making public the drug data on human and animals would be helpful.

Borriello cited the United Kingdom – where usage patterns of antibiotics by clinics with patients of similar demographics are compared – as an example.

Doctors could know from the data whether they were prescribing too much of the drugs. Borriello said the knowledge ignited “a big change in use and behaviour” of antibiotics prescription.

Antibiotics usage on poultry in UK has been greatly reduced by 44 per cent from 2012 to 2015, after a voluntary data collection programme allowed for a more specific review, and provided education to farmers on possible alternatives.

One new superbug infection every 18 minutes in Hong Kong public hospitals

The British government released a five-year strategic plan covering 2013 to 2018 to address the superbug problem, including information on the improvement of prescription patterns and infection prevention.

In lieu of this, Dr Ho Pak-leung, a University of Hong Kong microbiologist who is also part of the committee, said the city should “definitely” draft a similar plan with more focus on livestock.

He said public hospitals and general outpatient clinics, which record all prescription data in an electronic system, could take the lead in publicising antibiotics usage patterns.

However, Lee Leung-kei from the New Territories Chicken Breeders Association did not agree that public data was the ­solution. He said local poultry farmers used antibiotics only when large amounts of animals fell sick.

While a spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said no abusive use of antibiotics was detected in local farms, there was no mechanism to monitor antibiotics prescription in the private medical sector.