Children from lower and middle income countries are on excessive antibiotics, says study

The researchers found that children received 25 antibiotic prescriptions on average during the first 5 years of their life

At a time when concerns about increasing antibiotic resistance across the world are on the rise, a new study claims that children in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are receiving excessive antibiotic prescriptions, which could exacerbate the problem.

The study published by researchers from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health says that children from LMICs— within the first five years of their lives— receive 25 antibiotic prescriptions on an average. This can adversely affect the ability of their immune systems to combat disease-causing pathogens and increase resistance to antibiotics.

"The consequences of antibiotic overprescription not only pose a huge threat to global health, but can also result in a concrete health impact for these children," said Valérie D'Acremont, co-author of the study, said in a release. "Excess antibiotic use destroys the natural gut flora which is essential to fighting pathogens," she added.

Vitamin D
Representational Picture Pixabay

Findings raise more concerns

During the course of the study, the researchers analysed data from health facilities and household surveys from eight countries between May 2006, and December 2016. The eight counties were Kenya, Namibia, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Haiti, and Nepal. In comparison to many high-income countries where two antibiotic prescriptions a year were considered excessive, these numbers were a "remarkable" estimate, the authors say.

The results of the study also showed that antibiotics were prescribed to 28.3 percent of children diagnosed with malaria, 50.1 percent with diarrhoea, and 80.5 percent of children diagnosed with respiratory illness.

Highlighting the seriousness of the findings, Günther Fink, lead author of the study, said, "We knew children in LMICs are sick more often, and we knew antibiotic prescription rates are high in many countries. What we did not know was how these elements translate into actual antibiotic exposure--and the results are rather alarming."

The relevance of the study

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat that is affecting global health and development. Resistance in tuberculosis (TB), malaria, HIV and influenza pathogens, has seen a noticeable increase in the last decade says WHO.

For example, in countries such as Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, resistance to primary treatment for malaria (P. Falciparum) has been confirmed as of July 2016. This is why the findings of the study are of utmost significance.

"What is unique about this study is that it provides a much more comprehensive picture of pediatric antibiotic exposure in LMICs than what has been reported previously. It combines both household data on where and when children are brought for care with data from direct observations of health care workers caring for sick children," said Jessica Cohen, senior author of the study.

This article was first published on December 15, 2019