Pharmacies can be shut down for selling antibiotics over-the-counter – Health Minister

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An overuse of antibiotics may be affecting people’s ability to fight off diseases and local authorities may soon shut down pharmacies selling these drugs over-the-counter to help resolve the issue, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony said on Sunday.

Dr. Anthony told those gathered at the Guyana Pharmacists Association Annual Pharmacist’s Convention on Sunday that much attention is being placed now on antimicrobial resistance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that antimicrobial resistance, or AMR for short, occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites are able to change overtime, making it harder for medicine to treat the diseases they cause.

Notably, the WHO says AMR is a natural process that manifests in genetic changes of pathogens.

However, the WHO also notes, “Its (AMR’s) emergence and spread is accelerated by human activity, mainly the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials to treat, prevent or control infections in humans, animals and plants.”

Because of this consideration, Dr. Anthony said the “indiscriminate use” of antibiotics in Guyana must cease.

Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony

“As we move to put stricter supervision in place, we might have to close you down and use the full force of the law to do so,” the Health Minister said, reminding the pharmacists that it is illegal to sell those drugs without a prescription.

The Health Minister said fears of AMR aren’t just a foreign concern.

He disclosed that there have been cases of multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis. Some malaria parasites were observed to have developed mutations resisting medicines traditionally used for treatment in Guyana.

And the Health Minister said he fears the use of unprescribed antibiotics may accelerate the development of AMR. Antibiotics given over-the-counter, he said, are used to treat common ailments like the flu or viral infections instead of for the bacterial infections they should be used to treat.

Pharmacists are cognisant that antibiotics cannot be sold over-the-counter.

The News Room visited one central Georgetown pharmacy on Sunday, seeking antibiotics over-the-counter. Amoxicillin, which is sold under the brand name Augmentin, was among the antibiotics available.

However, the pharmacist at the establishment vehemently objected to the request for antibiotics, stating: “We cannot sell these antibiotics without a prescription.”

Pharmacists don’t always object to those requests, the Health Minister said. Undercover operations have been carried out to test whether pharmacists adhere to the regulations.

“They (Ministry of Health officials) go and test the system, so to speak.

“They appear as though they are a regular customer and ask (for antibiotics) and if you are doing the wrong thing, then they’ll tell you who they are and then they’ll make a note,” Dr. Anthony told the News Room.

But what happens when pharmacists are caught flouting regulations?

Well, nothing. At least not right now.

Dr. Anthony said those pharmacists can be prosecuted but that hasn’t been done yet.

“That’s something we now have to step up on,” the Health Minister said, highlighting that an entire chapter in a forthcoming Medical Regulations Bill is dedicated to regulating antibiotics.

He believes that this new Bill, when it becomes law, will help pave the way for greater enforcement. And ultimately, he believes pharmacists will be compelled to comply with long standing regulations of only selling antibiotics with prescriptions.

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