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Member Research and Reports

Harvard: Researchers Study Excessive Antibiotics Prescribed for Children in Low-, Middle-income Countries

Children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are receiving an average of 25 antibiotic prescriptions during their first five years of life, an excessive amount that could harm the children’s ability to fight pathogens as well as increase antibiotic resistance worldwide, according to a new study from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We knew children in LMICs are sick more often, and we knew antibiotic prescription rates are high in many countries. What we did not know was how these elements translate into actual antibiotic exposure — and the results are rather alarming,” said Dr. Günther Fink, lead author of the study and head of the Household Economics and Health Systems Research unit at Swiss TPH.

The study — the first to look at total antibiotic prescribing in children under the age of five in LMICs — was published on December 13 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

“What is unique about this study is that it provides a much more comprehensive picture of pediatric antibiotic exposure in LMICs than what has been reported previously. It combines both household data on where and when children are brought for care with data from direct observations of health care workers caring for sick children,” said Dr. Jessica Cohen, the Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal associate Professor of Global Health at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study.

Harvard Chan research associate Dr. Hannah Leslie was a co-author of the study.

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