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Children in low-income countries are receiving record number of prescriptions

Researchers worry about how this could affect antibiotic resistance

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While trends in antibiotic resistance have been widely studied by researchers, a new study conducted by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health has recently uncovered another layer in the fight against antibiotic overuse. 

The researchers found that children in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) are receiving more antibiotics than countries with higher incomes. This is troubling to the researchers, as they worry that such findings could contribute to antibiotic resistance around the world. 

“We knew children in LMCIs are sick more often, and we knew antibiotic prescription rates are high in many countries,” said researcher Günther Fink. “What we did not know was how these elements translate into actual antibiotic exposure -- and the results are rather alarming.” 

Protecting against antibiotic resistance

The researchers evaluated data spanning a decade that was collected from both individual households and health facilities in eight LMICs: Malawi, Haiti, Senegal, Uganda, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nepal. 

“What is unique about this study is that it provides a much more comprehensive picture of pediatric antibiotic exposure in LMICs than what has been previously reported,” said researcher Jessica Cohen. “It combines both household data on where and when children are brought for care with data from direct observations of healthcare workers caring for sick children.” 

In all of the responses, the sick children were all aged five or younger. The researchers were able to break down the collected data to determine how many prescriptions were being distributed and what conditions they were being used as a treatment option for. 

While each country yielded different results, the researchers ultimately determined that children from LMICs were receiving antibiotics at a far more rapid pace than children from higher-income regions. 

For high-income nations, the researchers explained that even two antibiotic prescriptions per year was considered excessive. However, children in a LMIC received an average of 25 antibiotic prescriptions by the time they were five years old.

Growing problem

This study proves that there’s a global struggle when it comes to antibiotics, as some countries are in dire need of them. However, as these findings have made clear, there are countries that are overdoing it -- especially when it comes to the youngest population. 

As threats regarding antibiotic resistance continue to loom, the researchers warn against quickly doling out prescriptions for antibiotics, as the effects can impact groups around the globe. 

“The consequences of antibiotic overprescription not only pose a huge threat to global health, but can also result in a concrete health impact for these children,” said researcher Valérie D'Acremont. “Excess antibiotic use destroys the natural gut flora which is essential to fighting pathogens.” 

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