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It’s clear we’re fighting a losing war against evolving bacteria. The World Health Organization is calling the problem “a serious threat [that] is no longer a prediction for the future.” Another report by Columbia University called the overuse “potentially devastating, threatening to set back progress against certain infectious diseases to the pre-antibiotic era.”

Last year, the New York Times reported the death of an elderly women killed not by cancer, pneumonia, or heart disease, but by “bacteria that were resistant to every antibiotic doctors could throw at them.” And as long ago as the 1950s, the overuse of penicillin and erythromycin was already producing weakened responses. Since then, the problem has been amplified by years of inappropriate treatments, incorrect dosages, and self-prescription—antibiotics don’t, for example, work for viral illnesses despite often being taken to cure the common cold.

Pervasive bacteria
Credit: David Marchal

There’s a saying in Vietnamese: “Tot qua hoa lop” which means “going beyond the limit is as bad as falling short.” It’s a phrase that could apply to our overuse of antibiotics in Vietnam. Here, people often take advice from family or friends and self-medicate rather than spend hours in queues at medical centers. And pharmacists also dispense advice as freely as their medicines. This is enabled by the accessibility of most medications, including antibiotics, which are sold without prescription at 88% of urban drugstores and 91% of rural drugstores according to one recent survey.

We checked in again with Jio Health’s Head of Internal Medicine, Dr. Si, to better understand the problem of the overuse of antibiotics in Vietnam, and to get suggestions on what we can be doing to help alleviate the risks.

Antibiotics are effective treatments for bacterial infections

It’s easy to forget that antibiotics have given us dramatically longer healthier lives. “They are still powerful treatments for bacterial infections such as pneumonia, some STIs (or STDs), kidney infections, meningitis, and acne (in severe cases),” Jio Health’s Head of Internal Medicine, Dr. Si, explains.

Old Happy Asian Couple
Credit: Benjamin Ton

Antibiotics shouldn’t be used to treat viral infections

Despite growing awareness about evolving resistance to antibiotics, rates of the use of antibiotics haven’t really changed.

“There could be many reasons for that, from doctors facing harder to treat infections to them using antibiotics as a precautionary measure—this often happens when there’s uncertainty over a diagnosis” Jio Health’s expert continues. “And although often taken for these types of illnesses, antibiotics aren’t effective against viral infections such as sore throats, most earaches, coughs, colds and flu. Using antibiotics in these instances won’t help cure the problem; it may cause harmful side effects, as well as contributing to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

How To Avoid The Overuse Of Antibiotics

We can take steps to avoid the overuse of antibiotics in Vietnam. While we may not be able to directly influence pharmaceutical practices, our personal preference to avoid the excessive use of antibiotics can be beneficial to our health. Here are some of Jio Health’s suggestions.

Take antibiotics the right way

Clearly, there are times you when we need to take antibiotics. When those occasions do occur, proper use will mean you complete the full course. “Stopping too soon may mean all the bacteria haven’t been killed and you’ll be susceptible to sickness again,” Jio Health’s Head of Internal Medicine explains. “We also strongly recommend you take antibiotics at the stated times and don’t skip doses—they are most effective when taken regularly. Also, don’t save leftover antibiotics till next time, and don’t take ones that were prescribed for someone else. This is because different antibiotics target different bacteria,” Dr. Si adds.

Antibiotics In Vietnam
Credit: Gable Denims

Always seek qualified medical advice when taking antibiotics in Vietnam

The availability of most medicines over the counter here dramatically reduces our reliance on often overcrowded hospitals and clinics. “But it’s important to remind ourselves that the investment of a few hours waiting time is worthwhile when it comes to our health. Alternatively, at Jio Health we can do consultations in the patients own home arranged through our app,” Jio Health’s Dr. Si explains. “And all our doctors are affiliated with the best hospitals, and they cover a wide range of specialties”.

Stay healthy

The simplest way to avoid the use of antibiotics is to stay healthy. “A strong immune system and good bacteria are both important to our well-being,” Dr. Si says. “It’s worth remembering how powerful the body’s natural immune system is. There’s lots of research about ways to boost the immune system—although there is debate about whether we can or even should boost it. While we still have a lot to learn about antibiotics in Vietnam diet, exercise, and other factors like avoiding stress all contribute to a healthy life. And so should not smoking,” Dr. Si adds.

Antibiotics In Vietnam
Credit: Gable Denims

Don’t hurry healing

Although antibiotics can help to clear symptoms quicker, they are often unnecessary. “Don’t hurry the healing process. Rest remains the most restorative thing you can do. Antibiotics indiscriminately target both good and bad bacteria. That means that by taking them the body’s natural defense against bad bacteria will be removed too,” Dr. Si continues.

Eat antibiotic free

Crowded, unsanitary farms are incubators for disease. Although regulated in many countries, animals are given antibiotics to cure illness and for other reasons too, like growth promotion. All this is driven by our addiction to low-cost meat products. However, some farmers have already gone antibiotic-free—look out for meat labels that certify that, or ones with that show organic certification. Large global chains like Subway have recently committed to removing antibiotics from their meat too.

“Of course, the easiest way to be sure you’re eating antibiotic free is to go vegetarian or vegan,” Dr. Si smiles.

Explore alternatives

When you do see a doctor, ask about alternatives to antibiotics. Many cite patient demands for antibiotics in Vietnam as a major reason they are over-prescribed. By registering your reluctance to take them, qualified doctors should support your decision and join you in looking for alternative treatments. “Personally, I’m acutely aware of the problem of over-prescription of antibiotics. I do suggest their use when cases absolutely merit it—but when the illness does not, I will look for alternative treatments,” Dr. Si says finally.

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This post is also available in: Vietnamese