06 February 2010

The Tragedy of the Antibiotics Commons

Here's an interesting - and frightening - story that opened my eyes to something:

Studies in China show a "frightening" increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus bacteria, also know as MRSA . There are warnings that new strains of antibiotic-resistant bugs will spread quickly through international air travel and internation food sourcing.

"We have a lot of data from Chinese hospitals and it shows a very frightening picture of high-level antibiotic resistance," said Dr Andreas Heddini of the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control.

"Doctors are daily finding there is nothing they can do, even third and fourth-line antibiotics are not working.

"There is a real risk that globally we will return to a pre-antibiotic era of medicine, where we face a situation where a number of medical treatment options would no longer be there. What happens in China matters for the rest of the world."

What this emphasises is that antibiotics form a kind of global commons - a resource whose benefits we all share. But if one party overexploits that commons - in this case, by recklessly handing out antibiotics as the article suggests - then the commons is ruined for *all* of us.

This development is yet another reason to get commons-based thinking into wider circulation - especially amongst the people making decisions, so that they can appreciate the massive global consequences that can flow from their apparently minor local actions.

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Filceolaire said...

Much of the antibiotic resistance is due to the use of antibiotics to treat farm animals. These are not used to treat diseases but mixed in animal feed as "growth enhancers".

The sooner we replace the meat used in burgers and stews with something grown in a vat the better. Real cow should be a premium product.

Glyn Moody said...

@Joe: indeed - and that's a good example of how one sector's misuse of antibiotics affects everyone....