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Antibiotic epidemic in Dubai


KIPP investigates over-the-counter sale of antibiotics

June 30, 2014 4:40 by

By Nadine Sayegh

With people frightened across GCC countries due to a prolonged outbreak of ‘Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome’ (MERS), the use of antibiotics is expected to rise.

Medical studies suggest people self-medicate for symptoms such as body pain, cold, cough or mild fever – and they believe antibiotics is the answer to all common ailments pushing sales of such drugs up.

But why would they?

Technically it is illegal to sell antibiotics without a prescription from an authorized physician, and it’s safe to say that they won’t be handing out medication without just cause. However, we discovered that the sale of prescription-only antibiotics is rampant in the city.

According to the UAE Federal Law number four, article 11, “The licensed pharmacist should not give any medicine or medicinal preparation without a medical prescription in a clear hand-writing carrying the name of the licensed doctor who issued it, its stamp and date issue.”

Despite the Ministry of Health stating that antibiotics can’t be sold without a physician’s consent, more and more prescription-only medicines are being sold over the counter. And it’s an easy process, as KIPP finds out.

We paid a visit to one local pharmacy close to our headquarters in Media City and asked for one gram of Augmentin, a prescription-only antibiotic used to treat certain types of bacterial infections. In less than one minute we had bought one packet. No questions asked.

We called another UAE-based pharmacy chain and asked if we could purchase Erythromycin, an antibiotic used to treat severe stomach infections.

The conversation was as follows:

KIPP: “Hello, I would like to ask, do you sell Erythromycin?” (In the spirit of full disclosure, we may have mispronounced the name)

Pharmacy: “Yes, we do. Do you need tablets or syrup?”

KIPP: “Tablets, please.”

Pharmacy: “Yes, we have it in stock.”

KIPP: “Great, do I need a prescription for it?”

Pharmacy: “No, no prescription needed.”

KIPP: “Are you sure?”

Pharmacy: “Yes, yes.”

Danger ahead

It is quite alarming that such powerful substances are being sold to customers to beat the common cold and people are able to self-medicate without completely understanding the medicine and any possible side effects.

A frequent misconception is that an antibiotic can be used to treat viral infections when, in essence, it is likely to do more harm than good.

The Mayo Clinic explains on its website: “Taking an antibiotic when you have a viral infection won’t make you feel better — and can contribute to antibiotic resistance.”

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