A joint study in the United States and Switzerland found that children in low- and middle-income countries were prescribed an average of 25 antibiotics per person from birth to the age of five. Overuse of antibiotics could harm children’s ability to fight pathogenic bacteria and increase global antibiotic resistance, researchers warn.
Researchers from the Swiss Institute of Tropical and Public Health and the Chen Zengxi School of Public Health at Harvard University, USA, combined medical and family survey seeking data on medical care for children under 5 years of age in eight low- and middle-income countries, including Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Senegal and Uganda, between 2007 and 2017.
The study, published in the new issue of the Lancet Infectious Diseases, estimates that the cumulative number of antibiotic prescriptions per child in low- and middle-income countries, from birth to age five, is on average 25, a figure that is “noteworthy.” In Uganda, for example, the cumulative number of antibiotic prescriptions per child from birth to age 5 averaged 60.
Specifically, about 80% of children with respiratory diseases, half of children with diarrhoea and nearly 30% of children with malaria are prescribed antibiotics by their doctors. The researchers say the figures are quite high because the vast majority of diseases in children in this age group are caused by viral infections.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the top 10 global health threats listed by the World Health Organization for 2019. Many high-income countries typically prescribe antibiotics twice per person per year that are considered overuse.