Venkatraman Ramakrishnan said overuse of these drugs spreads resistance

“Good hygiene can control infections far more than an antibiotic can do,” said Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, while speaking at Sankara Nethralaya hospital in the city on Thursday.

The structural biologist, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Thomas A. Steitz and Ada E. Yonath for ‘studies of the structure and function of the ribosome,’ spoke about the importance of curbing the spread of infectious diseases, the challenges in drug discovery and also advocated the rational use of antibiotics.

During his interaction with the audience, he spoke about how the irrational use of antibiotics encourages the spread of resistance. “There is a huge overuse of antibiotics because people will have a headache or flu or cold and they want to take antibiotics to cure themselves,” he said, also speaking against over-the-counter sales of antibiotics in India.

“The problem is that sometimes people will go to a doctor, the doctor will be honest and say, look, you just need to go home, drink lots of warm fluids and rest. And then they are not happy, and will go to some other doctor who will prescribe them an antibiotic,” he said. He spoke about how not completing the full course of antibiotics also leads to ill effects.

In his speech, Mr. Ramakrishnan explained how protein was made in each cell in every form of life and how the discovery of the Ribosome and its structure is leading to an understanding of antibiotic function.He also spoke about the challenges in making third-line antibiotics in the West for infectious diseases.

“These antibiotics would be new and expensive, so the number of patients would be quite small. They would be restricted to those who have multi-drug resistant disease,” he said.

Citing an example of a company that had to cancel its Initial Public Offering because of poor market response, he said there is something wrong with the kind of market forces, where something that can save millions of lives cannot be funded in a market economy.

He called for curbing infectious diseases through improved surveillance, better diagnostics, vaccine development and proper sanitation and hygiene.

“The National Health Service (UK), four or five years ago, was worried about Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections in hospitals. They introduced a very stringent hand-washing regimen. And that alone, caused a huge drop in MRSA infections. These are all simple measures,” he said.

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