Rapid testing methods and public education are key to reducing the levels of unnecessary antibiotic usage - which combined with the growth in antimicrobial resistance is becoming a threat to global public health.

This is according to Dr Mukesh Govind, Director at the Independent Practitioners Association Foundation (IPAF) and speaker at the 6th annual Africa Health Exhibition & Congress, who says that antimicrobial stewardships, a coordinated programme that promotes the appropriate use of antimicrobials including antibiotics, have the potential to improve patient outcomes and reduce antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance is the resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial drug that was originally effective for treatment. According to the World Health Organisation, this is an “increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society”[1].

Professor Morgan Chetty, CEO of the KwaZulu Natal Managed Care Coalition and fellow speaker at the 6th annual Africa Health Exhibition & Congress, says the world is also facing the combined problem of a growing antimicrobial resistance coupled with a decrease in new drugs available to the market. “From 1983 to 2002 there has been a 56% reduction in the number of new antibiotics introduced.”

Furthermore, Chetty says that as many as 50% of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory infections are not necessary and two key approaches to reducing these figures include Point-of-Contact Testing (POCT) and raising public awareness. POCT can assist primary care doctors by identifying people with infections that are most likely to respond to antibiotics, which would theoretically reduce unnecessary prescriptions.

Chetty adds that if patients are aware of the natural cause of an infection, as well as the danger signs of a deteriorating condition, then they would be more readily accepting of the fact that antibiotics need not be assigned to them.

The need for greater public involvement in health issues is not limited to antimicrobial resistance, however.

Patient-centered care

Chetty says there is a growing trend of ‘patient activism’ across the world. Patient activism refers to the approach in which the person seeking medical assistance becomes part of the treatment process rather than simply following orders by healthcare practitioners.

“What we’re seeing now is a rise in patient activism. We are seeing a patient that wants to be part of the process and not sit outside the team [of medical practitioners],” says Chetty, who adds that healthcare systems across the world need to refocus their models in order to be patient-centric.

“Partnering with patients is about a fundamental shift in the power structure in healthcare and a renewed focus on the core mission of health systems,” says Chetty.

One of the first steps in achieving this goal is through educating medical practitioners on the importance of listening to their patients. Chetty says that studies have shown that it only takes an average of 19 seconds before a patient’s input into a conversation is interrupted by their medical practitioner.

“Person-centred care is not just about giving people whatever they want or providing information, it is about considering peoples desires, values, family situations, social circumstances and lifestyles; seeing the person as an individual and working together to develop appropriate solutions,” Chetty says.

Empowering the patient and their family to be a part of their care is also one of the cornerstones of an approach to healthcare, known as Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs). Dr Anton Prinsloo, IT Director at IPAF, says that factors such as long waiting times and rushed consultations point toward the need for new models of healthcare, such as PCMHs, to be explored. “The current way patients receive primary care is not working for either patients or providers.”

Prinsloo points out that PCMHs, in addition to patient empowerment, are designed to improve quality of care through the coordination of a variety of healthcare practitioners, treating the many needs of the patient at once and increasing access to care.

The latter can be achieved through innovations such as wearable technology which track health stats, ‘digital’ consultations via streaming services and electronic portals where healthcare providers and patients alike can access their medical history at any time and any location.

Prinsloo adds that by using such technology, PCMHs can drive down costs associated with primary healthcare, which is vital to the wellbeing of both the individual and society at large.

“For most, primary healthcare is the entry point and touchstone of the healthcare system, delivering and coordinating care for patients and families, with an emphasis on population health and managing chronic illness,” says Prinsloo.

Creating a discussion on Africa’s healthcare challenges

The 6th annual Africa Health Exhibition & Congress is the continent's largest healthcare exhibition and is the ultimate platform for healthcare professionals and medical experts across Africa to share their insights into addressing the continent’s specific healthcare needs, while keeping updated on the latest developments in medical science. The event is currently underway at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

According to Douglas Nairne, Chief Executive Officer of the DataFlow Group, “Africa Health has established itself as an important networking event that brings together top industry leaders and stakeholders to exchange knowledge, experiences and business while highlighting the latest advancements and innovations within the global healthcare sector. Our involvement has been a great opportunity for us to gain invaluable industry insights as well as to educate audiences about the vital role our Primary Source Verification solutions play in protecting communities.”

The event is expected to attract more than 7, 000 healthcare professionals and will play host to more than 500 of the world’s leading healthcare suppliers, manufacturers and service providers. Dr Mukesh Govind and Prof Chetty are among the more than 160 regional and international presenters speaking at the 16 CPD accredited conferences over the duration of the congress.

[1] World Health Organisation, Antimicrobial Resistance: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs194/en/