Alarmed by the rampant abuse of antibiotics and resultant emergence of drug resistant bacteria, the Ministry of Health has announced an action plan to drastically curb the practice from now until 2020.

The plan will establish more stringent regulations on antibiotic use, increase citizens' awareness of drug resistant bacteria strains and the dangers involved, and set up a national-level supervisory framework to monitor and respond to the problem.

A survey commissioned by the Health Ministry in 2011, covering nearly 3,000 pharmacies in northern urban and rural areas, showed that 88 percent of antibiotics were dispensed without prescription in urban areas, and this rose even further to 91 percent in rural areas.

The widespread use of antibiotics without prescription, as well as improper use for various reasons including lack of access to proper healthcare, has seen the appearance of drug-resistant bacteria strains that clinics and hospitals are struggling to treat, says deputy director of MoH's Medical Services Administration Cao Hung Thai.

Furthermore, experts with MoH have said that many kinds of antibiotics are being prescribed needlessly.

The drug-resistant strain of the klebsiella spp bacteria, for instance, has been increasingly seen over the last decade. Nearly 20 percent of tuberculosis patients in the country are carrying drug-resistant strains that experts have said could pose a global health threat.

"It is not easy to treat multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis patients, treatment costs rise exponentially and in some cases, they cannot be cured," said Thai.

Nguyen Mai Ha, a resident of Hanoi's Cau Giay district, said that she often bought antibiotics for herself instead of going to the doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

"The prescription is not necessary. I describe my disease symptoms to the druggist and then I get the proper medicines," she said.

Whenever Ha develops a cough, she consumes antibiotics immediately, believing that it will cure the condition faster.

Under the action plan, many multi-media campaigns will be launched to increase awareness of drug resistance and its implications. It will be developed into a subject taught at medical schools and universities. Scientific conferences will be held on ways to tackle the growing healthcare threat.

The ministry will also work with international organisations to learn from the experiences of foreign countries in dealing with the problem.-VNA