The Health department, in an attempt to reduce antimicrobial resistance (AMR), has decided to curb over-the-counter (OTC) sale of antibiotics in the State.
Health Minister Veena George said that directives had been issued that no antibiotics be sold in the State without a doctor’s prescription. She said that the licence of pharmacists who made over-the-counter sale of antibiotics would be cancelled.
The decision was taken at the annual review meeting of the Kerala Antimicrobial Resistance Strategic Action Plan (KARSAP) in Thiruvananthapuram.
Though the law says that antibiotics can be sold only on prescription, in practice, this has not been happening. Indiscriminate sale and abuse of antibiotics such as Azithromycin was one of the major health issues during the pandemic also, despite the medical fraternity making it clear that viral infections cannot be cured by antibiotics.
Kerala, which released an antibiogram for 2021 — the first such attempt in the country — by collating antimicrobial resistance surveillance data from 18 sentinel sites across the State, had reported increasing antimicrobial resistance and resistance of bacterial organisms to even the last-resort antibiotics like Carbapenems.
Not just in the human health sector, AMR is seen to be increasing in the animal husbandry, aquaculture, fisheries and environment sector also in the State, a clear indication of the indiscriminate use of antibiotics, it was pointed out at the KARSAP meeting.
Though Kerala has already kicked off a campaign to promote antibiotic literacy in the State, only punitive measures to curb the OTC sale of antibiotics can bring any immediate palpable change in behaviour, it was pointed out.
The meeting also decided to explore the possibility of declaring the isolation of Carbapenem-resistant bacteria through culture studies a notifiable condition as Carbapenems are considered the last-resort antibiotics to curb bacterial infections. Any hospital which finds Carbapenem-resistant bacterial isolate in labs will be asked to report it to the Health department immediately.
Health Secretary Tinku Biswal, Chief Minister’s scientific advisor M.C. Dathan, Director of Health Services V. Meenakshy, Director of Medical Education Thomas Mathew, convener of KARSAP working committee R. Aravind and many others were present at the review meeting.