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Experts: Overuse of Antibiotics Can Harm Children

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Medical experts have again warned the public about the risks of improper drug use by pointing out that more than a million children on the mainland have been made deaf by misuse of the antibiotic streptomycin.

Of the 1.8 million deaf children on the Chinese mainland, 60 percent lost their hearing because of improper drug use, largely related to streptomycin, said Yang Zhiyin, director of the behavioral medicine branch of the Chinese Medical Association. Each year on the mainland about 200,000 people die from adverse drug events and 40 percent of the deaths are related to the abuse of antibiotics, Yang told the Beijing-based Health News.

Many Chinese households habitually stock antibiotics at home and most people have taken antibiotics without a doctor's guidance, experts said.

At medical institutions about 70 percent of hospitalized patients have antibiotics prescribed by doctors but nearly 80 percent of those prescriptions are unnecessary, Yang noted.

"Drug abuse, particularly the overuse of antibiotics, is widespread on the mainland, which is more than a purely medical problem. It's a complicated social issue," said Huang Liuyu, director of the Institute for Disease Prevention and Control of the People's Liberation Army.

But he also conceded that doctors should be the first to be blamed for the situation.

"Some doctors tend to prescribe the most advanced antibiotics for patients who could be cured with commonly used ones. Some do this to achieve the quickest and best result, while others do it to receive kickbacks from drug companies," he said.

Huang called for strengthened surveillance and management of the problem by hospitals and health authorities.

Each Chinese consumes an average of 138 grams of antibiotics a year, more than 10 times that taken by a person in the United States, Yang said.

"We are deeply concerned about antibiotics overuse, but we have little control," said a father surnamed Wu, who took his 2-year-old daughter to Beijing's China-Japan Friendship Hospital on Tuesday because she had the flu.

Given China's high rates of cesarean sections, children today are exposed to antibiotics from birth, and they grow up in an environment with pervasive food safety problems that give rise to the use of antibiotics, Wu told China Daily.

According to a report by the World Health Organization released in February 2010, China's cesarean-section rate was as high as 46.2 percent based on data collected in 2007 and 2008. This was much higher than the 15 percent ceiling recommended by the organization.

"Also, injections seem to have been phased out now. Children coming to hospital with a cold will be treated with intravenous drips. Doctors are usually too busy to remind parents of the dangers of overuse of antibiotics," Wu said.

Wu said he always seeks information on the medicines hospitals give his daughter.

"The best we can do is to be careful and well informed," he said.

(China Daily January 5, 2011)

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