Thursday, 14 March 2013

When Sickness is Good Business

This week the UK’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) published her annual report. It presented a view on a looming threat to our health: the body’s inability to fight off new infectious diseases and its resistance to existing drugs. The CMO said this threat was as serious as global terrorism and climate change. Oh really, why is that then?
In an interview the British CMO said unless we take urgent action, and within the next 25 years or so, our societies were likely to revert to a pre-antibiotic era because over the last 30 years very few new antibiotics had been developed. Her report highlighted the fact that while diseases evolved and become resistant to existing drugs, there have been very few new antibiotics developed leaving us vulnerable to new infectious diseases.  

It is important therefore to preserve our current stock of antibiotics. This means taking steps to prevent infections including being more scrupulous around hygiene but in particular, prescribing fewer antibiotics and only when absolutely necessary. Lowering anti-biotic use is critical to slowing the evolution of resistance.
Well that’s a tough call, since nowadays we are demanding anti-biotics, even for the common cold. The chart below from research undertaken by the Centre for Diseases Dynamics, Economics & Policy puts Europe and North America in the frame. While USA is highlighted, France and Greece seem to be having a real tough time.
The British CMO went on to say that the pharmaceutical industry had to be ‘incentivised’ to invest in producing new anti-biotics. Oh?  Why? Because there’s no money in it for them otherwise.  
Once you have completed your course of anti-biotics your symptoms abate and you may not need medicating again until the following year, or another five years, or longer. It’s more profitable to produce drugs that become part of daily life.
Last year I watched as a friend refilled his weekly pillbox with approximately three or four tablets for each day of the week.  We keep the pharmaceutical industry in healthy profit with our unhealthy lifestyles and dependency on generic prescription drugs. Illness makes good business sense.  

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