National campaigns to improve antibiotic use
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High levels of antibiotic consumption are driving levels of bacterial resistance that threaten public health. Nonetheless, antibiotics still provide highly effective treatments for common diseases with important implications for human health. The challenge for public education is to achieve a meaningful reduction in unnecessary antibiotic use without adversely affecting the management of bacterial infections. This paper focuses on the lessons learned from national campaigns in countries (Belgium and France) with high antibiotic use. Evaluation of these national campaigns showed the importance of television advertising as a powerful medium to change attitudes and perhaps also behaviour with regard to antibiotics. Moreover, in both countries, strong evidence suggested reduced antibiotic prescribing. However, adverse effects associated with a reduction in antibiotic prescribing were not monitored. We conclude that carefully designed mass education campaigns could improve antibiotic use nationally and should be considered in countries with high antibiotic use. However, these campaigns should employ techniques of social marketing and use appropriate outcome measures. The benefits and risks of such campaigns have been less well established in countries where antibiotic use is already low or declining.