China Wreckless Health System Threatens
The World By Unleashing Superbugs
China's reckless use of antibiotics in the health system and agricultural
production is unleashing an explosion of drug resistant superbugs
that endanger global health, according to leading scientists.
Chinese doctors routinely hand out multiple doses of antibiotics
for simple maladies like the sore throats and the country's farmers
excessive dependence on the drugs has tainted the food chain.
Studies in China show a "frightening" increase in antibiotic-resistant
bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus bacteria, also know as
MRSA . There are warnings that new strains of antibiotic-resistant
bugs will spread quickly through international air travel and
internation food sourcing.
"We have a lot of data from Chinese hospitals and it shows
a very frightening picture of high-level antibiotic resistance,"
said Dr Andreas Heddini of the Swedish Institute for Infectious
"Doctors are daily finding there is nothing they can do,
even third and fourth-line antibiotics are not working.
"There is a real risk that globally we will return to a
pre-antibiotic era of medicine, where we face a situation where
a number of medical treatment options would no longer be there.
What happens in China matters for the rest of the world."
Particular alarm has been raised by resistance rates of MRSA
in Chinese hospitals, which has more than doubled from 30 per
cent to 70 per cent, according to Professor Xiao Yonghong of the
Institute of Clinical Pharmacology at Beijing University.
Last year researchers found a new strain of MRSA in Chinese pigs
imported into Hong Kong and called for urgent new studies into
its potential to infect humans after an infection of the new strain
was confirmed in Guangzhou, where many of the pigs were farmed.
A Beijing-based health expert with access to unpublished surveys
showed that the situation in China was actually worse earlier
studies had indicated.
"The Chinese Ministry of Health has all the data,"
the expert warned, "but they seem unable or unwilling to
believe it. The situation has global implications and is highly
The Chinese Ministry of Health failed to respond to requests
for an interview or information by phone, email and fax over a
New prescription guidelines to restrict antibiotic use being
issued by the Chinese Ministry of Health in 2004.
"The guidelines are not being followed effectively,"
added Professor Xiao, "over just the last five years, for
example, our studies show the rate antibiotic-resistant E.coli
has quadrupled from 10 per cent to 40 per cent."
Public health experts say the rampant over-use of antibiotics
in China is primarily caused by China's under-funded healthcare
system where hospitals derive up to half of their operating income
from selling drugs. In some cities, such as Chongqing, almost
half of all drugs sold are antibiotics.
"In Chinese hospitals our data shows that 60 per cent of
in-patients are being prescribed antibiotics compared with the
WHO guideline of 30 per cent," added Professor Xiao who also
heads China's National Antibiotic Resistance Investigation Network.
China's State Food and Drug Administration bans the sale of antibiotics
without prescription but a survey by the The Daily Telegraph found
the drugs were still easily obtainable over-the-counter.
Three out of five chemists agreed to sell antibiotics after a
cursory consultation with the 'patient' who complained of a sore
At one outlet a pharmacist handed over a course of the second-generation
antibiotic, Cefuroxime Axetil, with minimal hesitation.
Asked if the sale could "get her into trouble" she
said that the pharmacy would get a doctor to write the prescription
later to cover their sales records. She added that even doctors
from the nearby Capital Institute of Pediatrics came to buy antibiotics
"When the surveillance is strict, we won't risk selling
antibiotics," Ms Zhang added. Asked to elaborate, she explained,
"For example during the 2008 Olympic Games period, we didn't
February 10, 2010