Govt draws thin red line to curb antibiotics misuse

To check irrational use of antibiotics, packs of certain medicines will soon carry a 'red line' differentiating them from other drugs. The move is aimed at discouraging unnecessary prescription and over-the-counter sale of antibiotics causing drug resistance for several critical diseases including TB, malaria, urinary tract infection and even HIV. The Centre is set to kickstart an awareness campaign - 'Medicines with the Red Line' - to spread awareness about irrational use of antibiotics.

"India is committed to combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR). However, a collective action is required by all stakeholders within a country and by all countries within a region, " health minister J P Nadda said. He added, the government is also working to prepare a national action plan to combat AMR.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised an alarm seeking urgent and concrete measures to arrest the reducing effectiveness of antibiotics. The UN agency has cautioned the government and public health experts that "if enough was not done now, common bacterial infections such as skin sores or diarrhea would become untreatable and fatal".

"Now is the time to turn pledges into action, stake out a clear roadmap and take action to prevent further erosion of our health security. The effectiveness of existing antibiotics is extremely valuable," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia. India, which has the highest number of TB patients in the world with over 2.3 million new cases notified every year, has already prepared a standard treatment protocol to restrict prescription and sale of antibiotics. However, the government has so far failed to enforce the protocol primarily because of an absence of monitoring mechanism. It is crucial as India is already the hub of multi-drug resistant TB. Estimates show over 1.1 lakh MDR tuberculosis cases are notified in India every year. This is significant when compared to Brazil and South Africa which reported around 15-20,000 MDR TB annually.

Inappropriate use of antibiotics makes bacterial infections immune to them. Over 7 lakh deaths each year are attributed to drug resistance worldwide. In India, an additional 20 lakh lives can be lost by 2050 due to drug resistance.

India is hosting an international meeting on 'Combating Antimicrobial Resistance: Public Health Challenge and Priority' in New Delhi to discuss how to stop over-the-counter availability of antibiotics.

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