Notwithstanding concerns about growing antibiotic resistance in the population, Government has decided to put on hold the National Antibiotic Policy which aims to regulate their sale till concerns of rural population over access to drugs are adequately addressed.
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today said balancing between the need to prevent resistance to antibiotics due to unregulated use and availability of drugs for the poorest population residing in villages was of utmost importance.
"For a large country like India where a significant fraction lacks access to basic healthcare and antibiotics, we have an urgent need to protect the effectiveness of our most affordable drugs," Azad said addressing the "First Global Forum on Bacterial Infections: Balancing Treatment Access and antibiotic resistance" here.
Admitting that antimicrobial resistance poses a growing threat to the treatment and control of infectious diseases, Azad said, "It is now time to look into this problem more holistically."
Keeping this in view, the government is now planning to evolve standard guidelines whereby unqualified medical practitioners and chemists in peripheral areas of the country will be trained to prescribe antibiotics.
Today's forum was the first initiative organised by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP) for creating awareness on balancing the treatment access and control indiscriminate use of antibiotics.
Azad said, "If we take into account the recommendations for new antibiotic policy that no antibiotic be sold without the prescription of doctors, then majority of our population living in remote and inaccessible areas would not have access to even basic life-saving drugs.
"We have to draw a balance between the harmful effects of antibiotics and the non-availability of antibiotics in remote areas of the country and then formulate a new policy."
The minister said the use of antibiotics had doubled over the last five years in the country, more so in the case of more powerful antibiotics.
"While it is good on one hand, because it indicates higher incomes, better healthcare and more access to life-saving treatment, on the other hand it is also problematic because it is leading to drug resistance," he said.
The minister said antimicrobial resistance poses a growing threat to the treatment and control of infectious diseases. "Resistance to micro-organisms leads to loss of lives, productivity and earnings, and threatens to undermine effectiveness of health delivery programmes," he said while stressing on the need for effective strategies to prevent and contain antimicrobial resistance and preserve efficacy of such drugs.
The minister informed that India has created an antibiotics policy that will restrict access to new generation antibiotics over the counter, restrict use for sub-therapeutic purposes in the animal feed sector and will focus on various measures to reduce the need for antibiotics.
"The notification for this antibiotic policy is yet to be issued, as the issue requires more serious discussions.
"We cannot restrict the use of antibiotics in peripheral areas of the country, where even doctors are not available. How can you deny the benefits of antibiotics to the rural people, who do not even have doctors available to prescribe them," said Azad.