Despite an increase in antibiotic consumption in the country, access to them is a continuing problem. An estimated 1,69,760 pneumonia deaths in children under the age of five in India could potentially be prevented through prompt access to effective antibiotics, a new Lancet study published on November 18 has said.
The study Access to Effective Antimicrobials – A Worldwide Challenge has been published online by researchers at the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), USA, the New Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India (PFHI), and the Princeton Environmental Institute, USA. It has released estimates that show improved access to antibiotics could avert the death of several thousand children in India alone.
More deaths would be averted in India than any other country, Ramanan Laxminarayan from PHFI and other researchers have said. More than a million children with untreated pneumonia and sepsis die each year. Improving access to antibiotics is particularly challenging in many rural and remote areas where frontline health workers employed in government programmes are unable to deploy antibiotics.
Many of the estimated 6.3 million children who passed away in 2013, died of preventable infectious diseases: 15 per cent of the deaths were due to pneumonia (9,35,000); 7 per cent due to neonatal sepsis or meningitis (4,21,000) and 2 per cent due to non-neonatal meningitis (1,51,000).
According to calculations, an estimated 40.4 million episodes of acute febrile illnesses in children aged younger than five years are caused by three common bacterial pathogens, with only 27.5 million of them being treated with antibiotics. The researchers have therefore concluded that increasing antibiotic access could benefit the remaining 12·9 million children who are not covered by antibiotic intake.
By averting 4,44,536 present deaths of the estimated mean total of 5,89,549 community-acquired bacterial pneumonia deaths across the 101 countries in the sample, universal provision of antibiotics could reduce these deaths in the young children by an estimated 75·4 per cent, the researchers have explained.
Weak health care systems in low and middle income countries face the problem of access to antibiotics. This is also complicated by overuse of powerful drugs which has led to development of drug-resistant bacteria and hence renders certain antibiotics powerless to fight infection.
Between 2000 and 2010, worldwide consumption of antibiotics increased by 36 per cent, with Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) accounting for three-quarters of this hike despite collectively representing only 40 per cent of the world’s population.
In BRICS countries, 23 per cent of the increase in the retail sales volume was attributable to India where regulations to control over-the-counter sales of antibiotics are poorly enforced.