The world is acting on antibiotic awareness

Media release

13 November 2017

New Zealand is joining the global battle to raise awareness around appropriate use of antibiotics.

World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2017 (November 13 to 19) is a World Health Organization global event around one of the most pressing challenges to health care.

The theme is: “Seek advice from a qualified health care professional before taking antibiotics.”

Antibiotics are a valuable and powerful tool in keeping people well – but inappropriate use is causing a growth in antimicrobial resistance, undermining the effectiveness of antibiotics and threatening common medical treatments and surgery.

The Director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay, says New Zealand this year presented its Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan as part of our commitment to tackling what is a global challenge.

“The plan comes from the work of the Ministry of Health, Ministry for Primary Industries, and the human health, animal health, agricultural and wider scientific communities.”

“We are all in this fight together, but the Awareness week is about bringing the message to all New Zealanders - so they can understand that when they see a health professional, they may increasingly  hear a message that antibiotics just aren’t the answer for their particular health issue.”

Wellington GP Dr Cathy Stephenson says it’s crucial to work out whether or not a person really needs an antibiotic.

“It’s partly about explaining to patients why antibiotics won’t help. But it’s also about giving them some practical advice that will help them, or their child, feel better - getting good rest, ensuring adequate fluid intake, and advising on proper pain relief. Often when you explain all this, people are actually very happy to avoid antibiotic use."

Dr John Wyeth from PHARMAC says they are charged with getting the best possible health outcomes for New Zealanders from the public medicines budget – and antimicrobial resistance could undermine that.

“We often forget that things we take for granted, like chemotherapy and surgery, would not be possible without antibiotics.”

Chris Little is the infectious diseases and antimicrobial stewardship pharmacist at Capital Coast District Health Board. He is passionate about antibiotic awareness, because it’s crucial that hospitals can continue to use antibiotics.

“We have patients undergoing surgery, and chemotherapy, and their immune systems are weakened. We have to be able to use the right antibiotics, right time, right dose, for those patients.”

Hilary Graham-Smith of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation says nurses are in the frontline of helping patients around proper use of antibiotics.

“Nurses have an integral part to play. Some nurses are prescribers now and more will come. Education about the importance of taking antibiotics as recommended by a health professional, not sharing them, and reporting adverse effects, is key to managing the use of antibiotics well.”

For more information about World Antibiotic Awareness Week including videos, go to: World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2017

You can read about the Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan at  New Zealand Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan.

  • For further information, contact Kevin McCarthy on 021 832 459 or Marama Ellis on 021 428 596.

Key messages for World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2017

  • Antibiotics are a precious resource. These medicines are essential for treating bacterial infections in both humans and animals

  • Antibiotic resistance stops an antibiotic from working effectively against bacteria – meaning some infections may become impossible to treat
  • Antibiotics are difficult to make. There are very few new ones being developed, which is why it is important we use those we have wisely and make sure these life-saving medicines continue to stay effective for ourselves and future generations
  • Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide problem that affects us all. Without antibiotics, we could face a situation where cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, organ transplants and other medical procedures are no longer possible. Bacterial infections which are treatable today could become deadly
  • Inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance. Inappropriate use includes:
    • inappropriate prescribing
    • people sharing their medicines
    • not taking antibiotics as recommended.
  • Taking antibiotics against cold or flu viruses won’t help people feel better faster. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections only. They do not work against viral infections
  • Follow the advice of health professionals on how to take antibiotics
  • In August 2017, New Zealand began implementing a five-year Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan to minimise the impact of antimicrobial resistance to human, animal and plant health. The Ministry of Health and Ministry for Primary Industries are working with a wide range of groups and organisations on action plan activities covering five different areas: awareness and understanding; surveillance and research; infection prevention and control; antimicrobial stewardship; and governance, collaboration and investment.

For communities:

  • It is important we use antibiotics the right way, at the right dose, at the right time, for the right duration.
  • By using antibiotics carefully, bacteria are less likely to become resistant to them.
  • Talk to your health professional about whether you are likely to have a bacterial infection needing antibiotics, or a viral infection which antibiotics won’t help.
  • Everyone has a part to play in reducing antibiotic resistance:
    • Hand washing can help prevent the spread of germs, reducing the need for antibiotics.
    • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and putting the used tissue in a waste bin can help reduce the spread of germs.
    • Never use ‘leftover’ antibiotics or share your antibiotics with others. Return unused medicines to your pharmacy for appropriate disposal.
    • Vaccinations can stop you getting and spreading infections that may need treatment with antibiotics.

For health professionals:

  • Only prescribe antibiotics when they are needed, according to current guidance.
  • Talk to your patients about their antibiotics and about antibiotic resistance – the importance of completing their prescribed course and the dangers of misuse.
  • Talk to your patients about how they can prevent infections, for example: vaccination, hand washing, safer sex, and cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Ensure your hands, instruments, and environment are clean to help prevent infections.
  • Use recommended first-line antibiotics first.
  • Reserve broad-spectrum antibiotics for indicated conditions only.


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