Some 4,000 Israelis of all ages die each year from infections that do not respond to antibiotics because their overuse has led to bacterial resistance, yet the Health Ministry has not explained to the public the danger of unnecessarily taking the medications, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Eight years ago, the ministry established a unit for reducing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics in the hospitals, but its staff of eight doctors, nurses and computer experts never carried out public informational campaigns to discourage overuse of antibiotics.
Prof. Yehuda Carmeli, a former chief of epidemiology at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center who established and heads the unit, agreed with the Post that such prevention efforts in the community “would have been advisable.”
The unit, located at Sourasky, never had an expert on public information and education on its team. Yair Amikam, the ministry’s former deputy director-general for information, who recently retired after 19 years in the position, did not run TV and radio campaigns against unnecessary use of antibiotics.
He was replaced on November 1 by ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Greenbaum, who told the Post she is keen on funding and running public service campaigns to educate the public on this vital issue and others.
In the community, people who have a cold often pressure their family physician to give them antibiotics “to feel better,” even though colds are viral and pass by themselves, while antibiotics target only bacteria. Many health fund physicians do not routinely take throat cultures to determine within a day or so whether a sore throat was a viral or bacterial infection, Carmeli noted. It is common for doctors to give patients a prescription for antibiotics and tell them they can take the drug if their condition does not get better in a few days.
Carmeli conceded that “the ministry’s senior management has never sat down for a comprehensive look at this problem, including in the community. You are right,” he told the Post. For example, although pediatrics bodies have long advised not giving children antibiotics for ordinary ear infections that usually pass on their own, many pediatricians still give antibiotics for this when parents prefer to avoid a day or two of intermittent crying.
Carmeli was commenting on a just-released World Health Organization report on the serious and worsening problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. The WHO found in a new multi-country survey that many are confused about this major threat to public health and do not understand how to prevent it from growing.