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COVID-19 worsened 'silent' spread of antimicrobial resistance: WHO

IANS Apr 27, 2024

Indiscriminate use of antibiotics during the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide may have worsened the "silent" spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), according to a report by the World Health Organisation on 26 April.

WHO report found that about 75 per cent of patients were treated with antibiotics "just in case" they help, even though only 8 per cent of hospitalised patients with COVID-19 required antibiotics to fight the bacterial co-infections.

AMR is one of the top global public health and was directly responsible for about 1.27 million deaths and contributed to 4.95 million deaths worldwide in 2019.

Antibiotic use soared during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2020 and 2022, it increased by 83 per cent in the Eastern Mediterranean and the African Regions, while the Western Pacific Region accounted for a 33 per cent rise, the global health body said.

"The highest rate of antibiotic use was seen among patients with severe or critical COVID-19, with a global average of 81 per cent. In mild or moderate cases, there was a considerable variation across regions, with the highest use in the African Region (79 per cent)," the WHO report said.

"When a patient requires antibiotics, the benefits often outweigh the risks associated with side effects or antibiotic resistance. However, when they are unnecessary, they offer no benefit while posing risks, and their use contributes to the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance," said Dr Silvia Bertagnolio, WHO Unit Head for Surveillance, Evidence, and Laboratory Strengthening Division for AMR.

"These data call for improvements in the rational use of antibiotics to minimise unnecessary negative consequences for patients and populations."

The findings are based on data from 450,000 patients admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 in 65 countries between January 2020 and March 2023, as recorded in the WHO Global Clinical Platform for COVID-19.

The report will be presented in a WHO scientific poster at the upcoming ESCMID Global Congress, in Barcelona, Spain to be held from April 27-30.

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