Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has reached “epic proportions” across the planet, the world health body has warned.
Australia’s consumption of antibiotics is among the highest in the developed world. Approximately 45 per cent of the population was supplied with antibiotics in 2013, new data from the health department has revealed.
The overuse and misuse of these drugs has drastically reduced their effectiveness, creating new, more powerful strains of harmful bacteria and viruses sometimes called ‘superbugs’.
Based on the new data, Australians used two-and-a-half times more antibiotics as the Dutch.
The United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a series of dire warnings about this growing threat in recent years.
Resistant bacteria could bring about “the end of modern medicine as we know it,” said WHO director general Margaret Chan in 2012.
This is because our drug treatments for some conditions may become completely useless, forcing medical experts to revert to older techniques, such as invasive surgery and limb amputations.
In response, the federal government this week announced a national strategy to reduce antibiotic use.
“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” Australia’s chief scientist Professor Ian Chubb told ABC radio on Wednesday.
The problem is global, Professor Chubb said.
“We travel, we do things that cause infections elsewhere, or we bring back to Australia bacteria that are in some way resistant to our present treatment regime.”
The peak body for pharmacists has welcomed the initiative.
“Antibiotics play a vital role in health management and wellbeing, but too often they are not being used appropriately,” Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Grant Kardachi said in a statement.
“The Australian government’s strategy is a very positive step in developing a cohesive and unified approach to addressing this growing problem.”