|A pharmacy on Ngoc Khanh Street, Ha Noi. A survey by the Medical Services Administration has found that it is very easy to buy antibiotics without a prescription in the country. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Tung.
HCM CITY (VNS) — Though buying most antibiotics requires a prescription, they have become one of the most popular drugs in Viet Nam, leading to a sharp rise in the population's antimicrobial resistance.
A recent survey by the Medical Services Administration, an establishment under the Ministry of Health found that 90 per cent of people could buy antibiotics without a prescription.
Most pharmacies ignore the ministry's list of antibiotics that can only be bought with prescriptions from doctors, and sell the drugs to anyone.
The lack of monitoring in the antibiotics market has led to an alarming rise in antimicrobial resistance in Viet Nam. It is one of the world's most antimicrobial-resistant nations, according to the World Health Organisation.
"Antibiotics only work effectively under strict conditions, like using the right dosage of the right antibiotics at the right time for a particular type of bacteria," said Pham Van Bui, the deputy director of the HCM City-based Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital.
"If antibiotics are used incorrectly, the bacteria will even get stronger and in some cases, curable sicknesses can become incurable."
Antimicrobial resistance also lengthened treatment times, and cost the patients 10 to 20 times more money than treatment normally would, because doctors had to use stronger, more expensive antibiotics to cure illnesses in resistant patients.
"Viet Nam has already had to rule out the use of Amoxicillin, a cheap antibiotic for sore throat, due to antimicrobial resistance," Bui said.
Another reason for Viet Nam's increasing resistance to antibiotics, apart from private pharmacies' liberal sales policies, is people's attitudes toward antibiotics. A quarter of the drugs pharmacies sold were antibiotics, according to the survey.
The administration sent employees to a pharmacy on Hai Ba Trung Street in HCM City's District 1, where they were able to buy Zinnat and Augmentin, two restricted antibiotics.
"Whenever I had a fever or felt dizzy, I always went to a pharmacy in my neighbourhood to buy antibiotics," said Lam Thi Hien, a District 12 resident.
Hien said she would either describe her symptoms to the pharmacist and buy the antibiotic they recommended, or she would buy one she had used before. If the antibiotics didn't work in a few days, then she would go see a doctor.
"Getting antibiotics in Viet Nam is as easy as buying vegetables at the market," said Nguyen Van Kinh, the director of the Ha Noi-based Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
"The Vietnamese have a habit of using antibiotics whenever they feel sick. They just go to any pharmacy and buy the drugs to treat themselves." — VNS