Misuse of antibiotics, poor hygiene in hospitals and medical tourism have contributed to rapid growth of drug-resistant “superbugs” in the GCC, researchers warn.
A study of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the UAE and region found one strain of dangerous superbug has increased up to 90 per cent over the past two decades.
Carbapenem-resistant bacteria kills up to half of the patients who become infected with it. Details of how many infection cases and fatalities there have been in the region from the bacteria were not available.
Hosam Zowawi, co-author of the study, said unnecessary use of antibiotics was identified as a major cause in the spread of hospital and community-acquired infections across the GCC.
“Superbugs are born and grow from the irrational use of antibiotics and it’s clear from our research that active guidelines must be implemented to restrict their use in the region,” said Mr Zowawi, of the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research in Australia.
“Although non-prescription sales of antibiotics are illegal in the GCC states, 68 per cent of pharmacies in Abu Dhabi, 78 per cent in Riyadh and 87 of 88 pharmacies included in a study in Saudi Arabia had sold antibiotics to patients unnecessarily and/or without a prescription.”
Researchers also found that poor attention to hand hygiene in hospitals and the region’s large population of migrant workers could have also contributed to the spread.
The World Health Organisation in 2011 called for urgent action by governments and health professionals to slow the spread of drug resistant infections.
“Inappropriate use of antimicrobials drives the development of drug resistance,” the WHO said in a report in 2011.
“Overuse, underuse and misuse of medicines contribute to the problem.”
Mr Zowawi said intervention was needed to battle “the medical disaster facing the GCC states”.
“Improving basic infection control precautions like hand hygiene, and prohibiting the availability of antibiotics without a prescription should also be mandatory, particularly in conjunction with a mass education campaign about antibiotic use,” he said.
Prof David Paterson, who also worked on the study, said the research team has developed the first regional network of collaborating hospitals and institutes to study superbugs in the region.
They hope the network will eventually develop continuing surveillance for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The research findings are published in this month’s Clinical Microbiology Reviews journal.