Over-use of antibiotics in Malta has become public health threat

Over-use of antibiotics in Malta has become public health threat

Originally published on Malta Today

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest public health threats of our time, the superintendent for public health Dr Charmaine Gauci has declared. 

“AMR is a public health threat... most people know that antibiotics have advanced and can cure a multitude of infections. Unfortunately, over-use of antibiotics has created antimicrobial resistance, or AMR. This a is a problem we foresaw happening. It’s a biological phenomenon which has now led to the emergence of strains that are partially or fully resistant to antibiotics.” 

On Tuesday the health ministry launched a national strategy against antimicrobial resistance, in a bid to control and possibly reverse current AMR trends. The policy will be issued for public consultation.

Gauci said almost 50% of conditions that are primarily caused by viruses in Malta are being treated with antibiotics and that it was common for individuals to even take antibiotics for simple coughs and sore throats. 

Globally, 25,000 deaths are attributable to infections caused by a selection of multidrug-resistant bacteria per year. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) estimates that 25 to 35 people in Malta die every year as a result of infections cause by AMR. 

Gauci said that inappropriate use of antibiotics could lead to wastage and higher medication costs. “Patients, their family and society endure loss of income and reduced worker productivity which all contribute to a social and economic burn generated by infections due to resistant microbes.” 

The EU spends €1.5 billion annually in healthcare cost and productivity loses due to AMR. 

Dr Roberto Andrea Balbo, chief veterinarian officer, said that Malta was making great strides in the collection of data which he hopes will go a long way in addressing the problem particularly with the over-use of antibiotics in animals. “We were one of the few countries that did not provide data on the sales of antibiotics. The system we had was not strong enough. During the Maltese presidency we drafted legislation for better data collection. Because of this we are now getting data on the amount of antibiotics being given to animals and also which animal feeds contain antibiotics and the percentage that it contains.” 

Balbo said in general farming conditions were not the best in Malta. “When there is a high population of animals and small amount of space, animals get sick – it’s just the nature of it. It is because of this that we have targeted farmers, to help and also to educate. Only with education can change take place. We have dispatched vets to work with farmers in order to manage and oversee what prescriptions are being given to the animals and to make sure that farmers are using the appropriate medicine on animals.”  

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