Health, Africa

Tanzania’s rural areas grappling with antibiotic resistance

Self-medication and heavy dosages of antibiotics makes children in Tanga region vulnerable to bacterial infections

Kizito Makoye   | 18.11.2021
Tanzania’s rural areas grappling with antibiotic resistance

PANGANI, Tanzania 

In Tanzania’s northern Tanga region, growing resistance against antibiotics has been exposing people mostly children to life-threatening bacteria, say health experts.

On World Antibiotics Awareness Week being observed from Nov. 18-24, public health experts in Tanzania have sounded an alarm against misuse of antibiotics among children in Tanga and elsewhere, which has made bacteria more resistant to drugs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in a message has urged health stakeholders, policymakers, and health care providers to spread awareness and stop resistance.

“Public awareness is critical. Many parents in rural areas are not aware of the risk posed by giving their children drugs without doctor’s advice,” Naima Zacharia, a senior epidemiologist at the Bombo Referral Hospital in Tanga, told Anadolu Agency.

The failure of antibiotic drugs to fight pathogens is causing acute respiratory diseases and diarrhea and killing underage children in the East African country every year.

Globally at least 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant infections. The number is expected to rise to 10 million deaths by 2050, according to WHO.

Zacharia said health workers need to discourage people to give antibiotics to underage children without prescription. “Once the bacteria develop resistance they persist for much longer,” she said.

According to Zacharia, the prevalence of resistance to commonly prescribed antibiotics in children with urinary tract infection (UTI) in the Pangani district, for instance, has rendered some medicines less effective as first-line treatment for infections.

It is estimated that about one in 10 girls, and one among 30 boys in Tanzania contracted the UTI by the age of 16.

Lack of safe water, poor sanitation, and inadequate infection control further aggravate the spread of deadly bacteria, she warned.

Drugs no longer work

It has been observed that the drug erythromycin prescribed generally to cure UTI no longer works in most of the patients in Pangani district hospital. In some children, even the stronger drug gentamycin also does not work.

Although Tanzania with a 62 million population had launched an action plan to curb misuse of antibiotics, the cash-strapped parents still buy strong drugs over-the-counter to avoid consulting doctors.

Health authorities in Tanga have confirmed that resistance to commonly used antibiotics among children in the impoverished coastal region is significant.

At the Choba Nursury School in Pangani, a caretaker Janet Mrindoko, 32, tries her best to protect the children from bacteria or viruses by her awareness program.

“I have been instructed to look after them, it is my duty to ensure that they don’t catch bacteria,” she said.

Suleiman Swaleh, a pediatrician at the hospital, said many parents in rural areas wrongly believe that antibiotics can be used to treat colds and flu among children.

“Public health education is needed to change the mindset of those people,” he said.

Low-income families avoid doctors

In rural parts of Pangani, healthcare workers are often approached by parents who expect a prescription of antibiotics for their sick children.

In some cases, low-income families directly go to the pharmacy to purchase antibiotics even though their children’s illness is not caused by bacteria.

“We avoid going to the hospital because they will ask you to pay to see a doctor, and pay for drawing blood from your arm for examination,” said Saida Makalu, a resident of Pangani.

Mtumwa Ali said his 14-year-old daughter Zainabu lying on a hospital bed is fighting bacteria caused by misuse of antibiotics. “We decided to bring her to the hospital because all the drugs we made her swallow did not seem to help,” he said.

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