Antibiotics sales in Vietnam double over 9 years, exacerbate superbug epidemic

By Le Nga, Phan Anh   May 16, 2018 | 11:45 pm PT
Antibiotics sales in Vietnam double over 9 years, exacerbate superbug epidemic
Vietnam’s antibiotics sales have doubled since 2009.
Many patients have been given unnecessary antibiotics, or more than they need.

Vietnam’s antibiotics sales have doubled since 2009, with more people taking unnecessary prescriptions, putting the community more at risk of drug resistance, experts said at a conference in Hanoi.

Vietnam Social Security Administration paid VND35 trillion ($1.54 billion) to cover medicine bills of insurance holders last year, and antibiotics accounted for a third of the 30 most-used ingredients in medicine, said Nguyen Thi Yen, Deputy Head of the Department of Medicine and Medical Facilities from the administration.

The medicine insurance coverage increased 12 percent from 2016 and 34 percent from 2015.

One reason that antibiotics sales has skyrocketed in recent years in Vietnam was because doctors and pharmacists have been selling and prescribing them indiscriminately and unnecessarily, said experts at the conference held last week.

A survey by the health ministry showed that 88 percent of all antibiotics sold in Vietnam's urban areas were without prescription; the rate is 91 percent in the countryside. Many patients were given antibiotics although they were not suffering from bacterial infection, and many were given longer doses than they need.

Dr. Nguyen Hoai Nam, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City Medicine and Pharmacy University, said some doctors, especially those running private clinics, prescribe strong antibiotics to impress patients with the speed in which they can cure them.

“They try to win fame and customers, but ignore safety issues,” he said, as cited by local newspaper Thanh Nien.

The use of antibotics in Vietnam between 2009 and 2015 was three times more than the amount in the previous five years, according to official figures.

The increased usage of antibiotics in Vietnam has further exacerbated the country’s superbugs epidemic, in which bacteria gain resistance against several types of antibiotics. The World Health Organization has listed Vietnam among the list of nations with the highest rate of antibiotic-resistant infections, standing at 33 percent of patients. This conclusion was also reached by IMS Health, a Connecticut-based healthcare data company, in a 2015 report on global antibiotics usage.

Pham Khanh Phong Lan, deputy director of HCMC’s Health Department, said antibiotics now account for 17 percent of medical expenses in Vietnam, which now has to resort to third and fourth generations of antibiotics due to drug resistance. Many developed countries are still using the first generation of antibiotics.

Nguyen Van Vinh Chau, director of HCMC Tropical Diseases Hospital, said many patients under emergency treatment at the hospital are infected with bacteria that resist multiple kinds of drugs.

“They can only be cured with the latest, most expensive antibiotics,” Chau said in the Thanh Nien report. “There are bacteria in Vietnam that resist all kinds of antibiotics available.”

“It won’t be long until Vietnam has no weapons left to deal with bacteria,” he said.

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