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Toolbox  –  Raise Awareness

Civil society

Raising awareness about antibiotic resistance, responsible use of antibiotics and promoting health and hygiene is important to limit the antibiotic resistance problem worldwide.

Two thirds of all antibiotics are sold in the private market without a prescription. The responsibility for health must be shared between health care providers and patients. Community awareness campaigns can help community members take an active role in their health care and ownership for their actions.

Awareness raising campaigns have the potential to increase knowledge on antibiotics, their appropriate use, side-effects and limitations. As antibiotics are essential medicines throughout all stages of life, all age groups should be targeted, however, it is suggested that beginning education with young children could be useful to get the message across early and ensure it is repeated overtime. Engaging mass media can be a good strategy for raising awareness as well as actively involving consumers, patients and organizations. Expertise support from the health sector is also recommended.

It has been shown that initiatives are more successful when they aim at changing behavior instead of just providing information. It is important to take into account the different perceptions people have regarding antibiotic resistance. As every individual comprehends and processes new information differently, it can be helpful to tailor the method of spreading your message. Initiatives should consider cultural beliefs, norms and social factors that influence the use of medicines. Socio-cultural, and economic factors must be acknowledged in the development and implementation of awareness raising initiatives. When working to raise awareness evidence suggests that incorporating behavior change theories into interventions can increase their effectiveness. See Behavioral change theories for more information.

Topics to consider for campaigns

Targeted public education campaigns can be arranged on for example

  • Good hygiene practices to limit spread of disease
  • Responsible use of antibiotics, including proper compliance and non-self medication
  • Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance to provide independent and unbiased information for consumers about medicines and the consequences of using them

Responsible use of antibiotics

Adherence to treatment is an important aspect of rational use of medicines. As the participative role in health care increases, so does the importance of education of the public on antibiotics and resistance. Antibiotics taken inappropriately for colds or other viral infections give no clinical benefit and can even endanger the health of the consumer, learn more in UNDERSTAND: Why should I care?. Even if this is well understood by the doctor or prescriber, pressure from patients might lead to overprescribing, and when patients expect an antibiotic its is much more likely to be prescribed. Sometimes pressure is felt by the prescriber when in fact the patient would actually rather not take antibiotics. Self-medication, use of left overs, and sharing of medicines occurs regularly throughout the world.

Direct-to-consumer advertising also influences behavior. Advertising by pharmaceutical companies or drug sellers is frequently the only source of easily available information on medicines. Unbiased consumer information should be made available and can be spread through public education campaigns or independent information centers. In many settings, antibiotics are available without a prescription. In rural areas, sometimes this is the only method for patients to access essential medicines. There is an enormous opportunity for interventions to target dispensers and other sellers, informing them about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, and the positive role they can have in the community. Through education and empowerment of these groups, there is a possibility to reach a large target audience, both distributors and consumers that otherwise might not be accessible through the health care system.

Promoting health and hygiene

Public health personnel, civil society, and local opinion leaders should work together to promote and strengthen disease prevention measures and improve community hygiene practices. Improving hand hygiene is an essential part of this work and can be a good starting point for awareness campaigns.

Selected Resources

Resource Description
Educational interventions to improve antibiotic use in the community: report from the International Forum on Antibiotic Resistance (IFAR) colloquium, 2002 This paper, based on discussions at the 2002 colloquium of the International Forum on Antibiotic Resistance (IFAR), provides an international discourse between theoretical approaches to behaviour change and practical experience gained in large-scale antibiotic use educational campaigns.
Understanding and changing human behaviour–antibiotic mainstreaming as an approach to facilitate modification of provider and consumer behaviour This paper addresses: 1) Situations where human behaviour is involved in relation to antibiotics, focusing on providers and consumers; 2) Theories about human behaviour and factors influencing behaviour in relation to antibiotics; 3) How behaviour in relation to antibiotics can change; and, 4) Antibiotic mainstreaming as an approach to facilitate changes in human behaviour as regards antibiotics.
Theory at a Glance: A Guide For Health Promotion Practice This guide describes influential theories of health-related behaviours, process of shaping behaviour, and the effects of community and environmental factors on behavior.
Where there is no Doctor (PDF) The story of working with antibiotic resistance in rural villages in India.