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WHO warns against overuse of antibiotics to tackle coronavirus

The WHO's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pictured on May 19, 2020
The WHO's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pictured on May 19, 2020 © /AFP/File
3 min

The World Health Organisation has warned that the increased use of antibiotics to fight the Covid-19 pandemic will strengthen bacterial resistance and lead to more deaths during the crisis and beyond. 


WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a worrying number of bacterial infections were becoming increasingly resistant to the medicines traditionally used to treat them.

 As a result, the organisation has issued guidance to doctors not to provide antibiotic therapy or prophylaxis to patients with mild Covid-19, or to patients with moderate illness without a clinical suspicion of bacterial infection.

 "It's clear that the world is losing its ability to use critically important antimicrobial medicines," Tedros said. "The threat of antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent challenges of our time."

He said there was an overuse of antibiotics in some countries, while in low-income states, such life-saving medicines were unavailable.

"This leads to needless suffering and death," he said.   

Meanwhile the WHO said the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) had been severely disrupted since the Covid-19 pandemic began in December, following a survey of 155 countries.

"This situation is of significant concern because people living with NCDs are at higher risk of severe Covid-19-related illness and death," it said.

The survey, during a three-week period in May, found that low-income countries were most affected.

Some 53 percent of countries reported partially or completely disrupted services for hypertension treatment.

The figure was 49 percent for diabetes treatment and related complications; 42 percent for cancer treatment, and 31 percent for cardiovascular emergencies.

The most common reasons for discontinuing or reducing services were cancellations of planned treatments, a decrease in available public transport and a lack of staff because health workers had been reassigned to Covid-19 treatment.


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