Together we can keep antibiotics working
21/11/2019 8:19:58 a.m.

Monday 18 November 2019

Together we can keep antibiotics working

It's World Antibiotic Awareness Week and the Ministry of Health is reminding New Zealanders that we all contribute to antibiotic resistance and we can all do something to help combat it.

The Ministry has been collaborating with other organisations including the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Health Quality & Safety Commission (HQSC), PHARMAC and the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand. We are working together to help raise awareness of this important issue and remind people that we can all help keep antibiotics working.

We encourage New Zealanders to take advantage of the ‘Antibiotic Amnesty’ which will be promoted in participating pharmacies from 18 November through until the end of the year, with the support of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand.

“Antibiotics are essential for treating bacterial infections in humans and animals. Antibiotic resistance stops an antibiotic from working effectively against bacteria. It makes infections difficult, and sometimes impossible to treat,” says Dr Ian Town, The Ministry of Health’s Chief Science Advisor.

“The more antibiotics are used, the more bacteria are able to adapt and find new ways to survive, becoming ‘resistant’ to antibiotics. These resistant bacteria can spread between people and are very difficult and expensive to treat. Preventing infections and their spread helps stop antibiotic resistance by reducing the need for antibiotics.

“There are few new antibiotics in development, so we need to protect the antibiotics we have to ensure these life-saving medicines remain effective in the future.

“Without them we may face a situation where cancer treatments, organ transplants and other medical procedures are no longer possible, as they rely on antibiotics to manage the risk of infection.

“There are a range of simple actions the public can take to help keep antibiotics working. This includes regular hand washing, keeping up to date with vaccinations, taking care when cooking to avoid getting food poisoning and trusting their health professional if they’re advised that they don’t need antibiotics,” says Dr Ian Town.

Background information

What action can I take?
• Regularly wash your hands and keep up to date with vaccinations.
• Remember the 3Cs when cooking at home. Clean, Cook, Chill to prevent you and your family from getting food poisoning. More information is available here:
• Trust your health professional if they advise that you don’t need antibiotics. Ask them about other ways to relieve your symptoms.
• Only take antibiotics if they are prescribed for you, don’t use or share leftover antibiotics.
• If antibiotics are prescribed for you, follow your health professional’s advice on when and how to take them.
• Take any unused antibiotics back to your pharmacy so they are disposed of safely and don’t enter the environment.

Launch of an Antibiotic Amnesty
An ‘Antibiotic Amnesty’ will be promoted in participating pharmacies from 18 November through until the end of the year, with the support of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand.

The ‘Antibiotic Amnesty’ encourages people to take action and return unused, leftover antibiotics to their local pharmacy for safe disposal. It will also provide opportunity for conversations in the pharmacy about wise use of antibiotics and for signposting to information on how to help prevent antibiotic resistance.

More information is available on the Pharmaceutical Society’s website

Antibiotic use in humans in New Zealand
• Use of antibiotics in New Zealand is high compared with many other countries.
• Up to 95 percent of antibiotics are dispensed in the community.
• Community-based use of antibiotics is estimated to have increased by up to 49 percent between 2006 and 2014.
• Almost every child in New Zealand has been exposed to antibiotics by the time they turn five.
• About half of the people who visited their GP in 2017 were dispensed at least one antibiotic.
• About one third of people were dispensed an antibiotic within 30 days of discharge from hospital in 2017.
Antibiotic resistance in human infections in New Zealand
• The rate of antibiotic resistance in New Zealand is currently relatively low compared with other countries. However, certain antibiotic-resistant infections are increasing, including resistant strains of Escherichia coli, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Staphylococcus aureus.
• Rates of infection with highly-resistant Carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE) have increased sharply in recent years – with hospital and community outbreaks of CPE experienced in different parts of New Zealand.
• Mâori and Pacific peoples are between two and four times more likely to be admitted to hospital for treatment of an infection than other New Zealanders. This means that they will be disproportionately impacted by worse health outcomes due to antibiotic resistance.
• Children, older people, those who are hospitalised, immune-compromised and critically ill, all have a greater need for effective antibiotics – therefore are more likely to be impacted by antibiotic resistance. 

More information on antibiotic resistance and the work the Ministry of Health and a range of other agencies and organisations have underway is available on the Ministry’s website: