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Antibiotic use down by a third in last decade

Last year in Finland, doctors wrote out one million fewer antibiotics prescriptions than ten years prior.

Superbakteeritutkimus.
Superbacteria research in Antwerp. Image: Jorge Dirxx / AOP /EPA

Prescriptions for antibiotics in Finland have fallen by a third in the last 10 years, according to a study commissioned by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

Researchers using figures from the social insurance institution Kela found that the number of antibiotic prescriptions fell by 29 percent between the years 2008 and 2018. This means one million fewer prescriptions were written last year than ten years prior.

In 2008 health insurance companies reimbursed the cost of 3.2 million euro's worth of antibiotic prescriptions in Finland, while in 2018 this number fell to 2.3 million.

The biggest drop, 60 percent, came in the area of antibiotics prescribed for children under the age of 4.

For children between 5 and 17 years of age, antibiotic prescriptions were down by 43 percent. For people over 65, the reduction was considerably smaller, at 17 percent.

One reason children's antibiotic use has fallen is likely the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine to the national vaccination programme. The pneumococcal vaccine can prevent pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis in some cases.

Cracking down on unnecessary use

There has been plenty of talk about the unnecessary and excessive use of antibiotics in the last few years. A general concern about increasing antibiotic resistance, when bacteria grow resistant to antibiotics, has also gained ground.

According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health. Each year over 700,000 people die worldwide from antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases.

The number is expected to grow if the rise in antibiotic-resistant superbacteria is not controlled somehow.

Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, but have no effect on viral infections. Despite the fact that they have no effect on various viruses, they are still often prescribed to treat them.

"To further reduce the use of antibiotics, it is crucial that physicians treat infectious diseases in accordance with treatment recommendations. We also need more specific diagnostics to ensure that the prescribed treatment is targeted to people in need," said emeritus professor of general medicine Pekka Honkanen in a Pfizer press release.

Compared to the rest of Europe, Finland had the ninth lowest daily dose of antibiotics per thousand inhabitants in 2017, according to a report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The countries in the study with the lowest antibacterial consumption per capita were the Netherlands, Estonia and Sweden.

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