In order to “save modern medicine as we know it,” the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), General Margaret Chan, has kicked off the organization’s first World Antibiotics Awareness Week. It is linked to a related global campaign: “Antibiotics: Handle with Care.” The comments are on what can happen if the problem of antibiotic resistance is not addressed are startling. Chan states in this audio press conference that the world is headed to a “post antibiotic era in which common infections can kill you.” She adds that many familiar major surgeries will no longer be viable without the protection. The issues related to these drugs are both overuse and misuse. Efforts to create new drugs are said to be limited by a lack of profitability and thus limited incentive to large pharmaceutical firms to make the investment.
The WHO release shared outcomes of a sobering survey. The WHO surveyed more than 10,000 people in 12 non-wealthy nations. In most—such as India, China, and Egypt—60% to 75% of people had used antibiotics in the previous 6 months. The vast majority were prescribed by doctors or nurses. The best news from the survey as reported by the WHO team was that 75% of people know about antibiotic resistance but there are high levels of misconception. In answer to a question from a representative of the British Medical Journal in the media conference, the important role of practitioners in not succumbing to demands for antibiotics from patients who might seek them for wrong use in underscored. WHO is “aiming the campaign very broadly”—from consumers to practitioners to people in agriculture—and considers it “a wake-up call for everybody.” The WHO report is here.
In the United States of America, the American Hospital Association kicked off the week by publishing “Hospitals around the World Unite to Battle Antibiotic Overuse”. The article highlights the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own Get Smart about Antibiotics Week from November 16 to 22. They estimate that “upward of 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary or not optimally effective.”
Comment: It is remarkable that nowhere in any of this campaign is there noted the possibility of value from non-conventional approaches and practices. In contra-distinction, last year to mark the European Union’s “Antibiotics Awareness Day” for 2014, EUROCAM (logo) published a draft position paper entitled “The role of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in reducing the problem of antimicrobial resistance.” The 33-page policy document calls out “the potential of CAM in reducing the problem of AMR [antimicrobial resistance] to be given serious consideration and for further research to be carried out in this area to determine in which conditions, both in human and veterinary healthcare, specific CAM modalities are particularly effective.” See “EUROCAM Takes on Role of CAM in Microbial Resistance” at this Integrator Round-up.
The first segment of the EUROCAM paper, for instance, speaks to how integrative strategies can build resilience in people so they will have less need for antibiotics of any kind. The report then touches on such topics as the positive interactions between herbs and antibiotics and the use of homeopathic medicines. Noted also are the possibilities for integrative practices in veterinary medicine that might diminish overuse of antibiotics in farming.
Two other developments in 2015 along this line are noteworthy. First, the director of the USA National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Josephine Briggs, MD, (pictured) has directly spoken to the potential that alternatives may have. (See ”Briggs Blasts Over-Prescribing of Opioids and Announces NCCIH Initiative to Explore ‘Misplaced Fear’ of Drug-Botanical Interactions.”) Briggs specifically calls out antibiotic overuse as one area of the problem. Second, a publication reported here in the Global Integrator Blog exploring the use and cost of homeopathics under the French system led to a suggestion of the potential public health benefit from homeopathic use. The authors concluded that “management of patients by homeopathic (general practitioners) may be less expensive from a global perspective and may represent an important interest to public health.”
People like to take something for their problems. Given how many use antibiotics as the “something” when in fact they are not properly prescribed, why not have the “something” be a homeopathic medicine? We need to leave our limited thinking. Since when is giving what a practitioner might view as a placebo worse than giving an antibiotic that is contributing to a public health disaster? To the extent that we fail to invest in these potential alternatives, policy makers who deny the potential from these therapies and approaches risk a categorization that was a Cold War rebuke: “Better dead than red.” Too many decision makers would seem to think that they are better dead than CAM. It’s time to open eyes—and doors.