In Malawi, research on drug resistance and discovery is underway, but it could be more robust to cope with the epidemiological demands. It is not an easy venture. It is costly and our capacity as a nation at large is still.
This requires a multidisciplinary action between medicinal chemistry, pharmacy, medical microbiology, medical communication and other allied disciplines to bring about ideas, funding proposals for capacity building (specific research, the construction of relevant facilities such as Level 4 Biosafety labs and for the training of personnel) and relevant collaborative work.
The commitment from our universities is there and it gives a glimpse of hope in breaking new grounds, given the resources.
What motivates drug resistance? Any drug is meant to see sunset someday. So it is with antibiotics. Sometimes, the bacteria themselves just evolve spontaneously for survival or get infected by plasmids that necessitate mutation.
An important factor that accelerates resistance, among many others, is the overuse and misuse by the populace.
It is common to see someone with a fever resorting to taking an antibiotic drug for relief which works. Eventually, the knocked down bacteria might not be dead. It rises and mutates to a stronger strain.
The effect is the same for those who do not complete a prescribed dosage and those who administer antibiotics to livestock, including chickens, which load consumers with unnecessary antibiotics.
The use of traditional herbal medicine is tricky in the control of drug resistance. These are not standardised yet they may not be effective enough for some microbes which eventually would make the microbes resistant to a particular chemical structure in the bioactive substance of the herb.
This may also be common in most conventional medicine since drug action is basically defined by the chemical structure of bioactive compounds, be it in herbs or conventional medicine. This calls for efforts to encourage standardised herbal remedies.
Should we be scared about the superbug? No, we should be hopeful and change the antibiotic misuse or overuse style of living for a start.
One would get comfort from synergetic differences for the survival of this bug in Malawi. It is important to note that the superbug has once been reported in African and Chinese meat before which shows that the environments are favourable for the superbugs.
Every citizen has a role to play. This is the time to take chemistry research out of the private confinements of the chemistry laboratory and apply it as exhaustively as possible into relevant fields.
Most importantly, chemistry research should be applied in the health sector for meaningful interdisciplinary solutions to such problems as alternative remedies that can be used in the same way, not compromising effectiveness through drug resistance.
The State needs to stand up and sensitise the populace on the dangers associated with misuse and abuse of antibiotics and they should coordinate with researchers and potential funders for alternative remedies in the near future.
As a country, we should not be reactive. We should not wait for the time when one of us is “known to be infected” and then turn into the fire-fighting mode.
We should start breaking new grounds today, taking advantage of our budget sitting for more funding in institutional research and the health sector even if it means for prescribed research areas.