Human use of antibiotics creates an evolutionary pressure that drives the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, simple infections can become life-threatening and it becomes more difficult to treat infections in hospitals in connection with surgical interventions or other treatments. We should therefore reduce the use of antibiotics and use them more wisely.
Greece is at the top among European countries when it comes to antibiotics consumption. Nevertheless, studies have shown that Greeks are aware of the connection between the overuse of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. It is not as surprising as it may sound. Other research shows that information alone is not enough to change people’s behaviour.
Since ignorance about the problem cannot explain the overuse of antibiotics in Greece, other factors should be investigated. In an article in BMC Public Health, Dimitrios Papadimou, Erik Malmqvist and Mirko Ancillotti present an interview study (focus groups) in which other possible explanations were examined, such as attitudes, norms and values among Greeks.
The Greek participants saw overconsumption of antibiotics as an entrenched habit in Greece. It is easy to get access to antibiotics, they are often used without a doctor’s prescription, sometimes even as a precaution. In addition, doctors frequently prescribe antibiotics as a reliable remedy, participants said. Although critical of this Greek pattern of antibiotic consumption, participants considered it morally questionable to restrict individual access to potentially beneficial antibiotic treatments in the name of the greater good. Nor did they want to place the responsibility for handling antibiotic resistance on the individual. The whole of society must take responsibility, it was argued, perhaps above all government actors, healthcare staff and food producers. Finally, participants expressed doubts about the possibility of effectively managing antibiotic resistance in Greece.
There certainly seem to be more factors than limited awareness of the problem behind the overuse of antibiotics in Greece (and in other countries). If you would like more details and discussion, read the study here: Socio-cultural determinants of antibiotic resistance: a qualitative study of Greeks’ attitudes, perceptions and values
Hopefully, the study motivates future quantitative investigations of attitudes, norms and values, with more participants. Changing the use of antibiotics is probably like changing the course of a huge ship. Simply being aware of the necessary change is not enough.
Pär Segerdahl, Associate Professor at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics and editor of the Ethics Blog.
Papadimou, D., Malmqvist, E. & Ancillotti, M. Socio-cultural determinants of antibiotic resistance: a qualitative study of Greeks’ attitudes, perceptions and values. BMC Public Health 22, 1439 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-13855-w
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