Screen Readers Skip to Content

Antibiotic Resistance: WHO Survey Reveals Confusion & Misunderstanding

Synopsis: World Health Organization (WHO) multi-country survey reveals widespread public misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance.1

Author: WHO Contact:

Published: 2015-11-16

Main Digest

As WHO ramps up its fight against antibiotic resistance, a new multi-country survey shows people are confused about this major threat to public health and do not understand how to prevent it from growing.

Antibiotics, also known as antibacterials, are types of medications that destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria. Inappropriate antibiotic treatment and overuse of antibiotics have contributed to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. The increase in bacterial strains that are resistant to conventional antibacterial therapies has prompted the development of bacterial disease treatment strategies that are alternatives to conventional antibacterials. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses such as the common cold or influenza, and may be harmful when taken inappropriately. Only take antibiotics as directed on the packet or the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine, or as instructed by your doctor or pharmacist. It is also essential to finish taking a prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you feel better, unless a health-care professional tells you otherwise.

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Over-use and misuse of antibiotics increase the development of resistant bacteria, and this survey points out some of the practices, gaps in understanding and misconceptions which contribute to this phenomenon.

Almost two thirds (64%) of some 10 000 people who were surveyed across 12 countries say they know antibiotic resistance is an issue that could affect them and their families, but how it affects them and what they can do to address it are not well understood. For example, 64% of respondents believe antibiotics can be used to treat colds and flu, despite the fact that antibiotics have no impact on viruses. Close to one third (32%) of people surveyed believe they should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better, rather than completing the prescribed course of treatment.

"The rise of antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis, and governments now recognize it as one of the greatest challenges for public health today. It is reaching dangerously high levels in all parts of the world," says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, in launching the survey findings today. "Antibiotic resistance is compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and undermining many advances in medicine."

The survey findings coincide with the launch of a new WHO campaign 'Antibiotics: Handle with care' - a global initiative to improve understanding of the problem and change the way antibiotics are used.

"The findings of this survey point to the urgent need to improve understanding around antibiotic resistance," says Dr Keiji Fukuda, Special Representative of the Director-General for Antimicrobial Resistance. "This campaign is just one of the ways we are working with governments, health authorities and other partners to reduce antibiotic resistance. One of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century will require global behavior change by individuals and societies."

The multi-country survey included 14 questions on the use of antibiotics, knowledge of antibiotics and of antibiotic resistance, and used a mix of online and face-to-face interviews. It was conducted in 12 countries: Barbados, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Serbia, South Africa, Sudan and Viet Nam. While not claiming to be exhaustive, this and other surveys will help WHO and partners to determine the key gaps in public understanding of the problem and misconceptions about how to use antibiotics to be addressed through the campaign.

Some common misconceptions revealed by the survey include:

To address this growing problem, a global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance was endorsed at the World Health Assembly in May 2015. One of the plan's 5 objectives is to improve awareness and understanding of antibiotic resistance through effective communication, education and training.

Key findings of the survey by country:

Barbados (507 face-to-face interviews)

China (1,002 online interviews)

Egypt (511 face-to-face interviews)

India (1,023 online interviews)

Indonesia (1,027 online interviews)

Mexico (1,001 online interviews)

Nigeria (664 face-to-face interviews)

Russian Federation (1,007 online interviews)

Serbia (510 face-to-face interviews)

South Africa (1,002 online interviews)

Sudan (518 face-to-face interviews)

Viet Nam (1,000 online interviews)

About the survey

The multi-country survey was limited to 2 countries per WHO Region, 12 countries overall. Data cannot be considered to be representative of each Region, nor of the global situation. Fieldwork was carried out by research agency 2CV between 14 September and 16 October 2015. A total of 9772 respondents completed the 14 question survey either online or during a face-to-face street interview. Document with key findings:

Multi-Country Public Awareness Survey on Antibiotic Resistance

About the 'Antibiotics: Handle with care' campaign

WHO is launching a global campaign, 'Antibiotics: Handle with care', during the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week, 16-22 November 2015. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness and encourage best practices among the public, policymakers, health and agriculture professionals to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.

For more information and to download campaign materials:

Related Medical News Documents

Full List of Medical News Publications

Recent Disability News and Updates

Full List of Disabled World News Updates

Disclaimer: Disabled World is strictly a news and information website provided for general informational purpose only and does not constitute medical advice. Materials presented are in no way meant to be a substitute for professional medical care by a qualified practitioner, nor should they be construed as such. Please report outdated or inaccurate information to us.

Disclosure: Disabled World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Any 3rd party offering or advertising on does not constitute endorsement by Disabled World. View our Advertising Policy for further information.

Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: WHO. Electronic Publication Date: 2015-11-16. Title: Antibiotic Resistance: WHO Survey Reveals Confusion & Misunderstanding, Source: <a href=>Antibiotic Resistance: WHO Survey Reveals Confusion & Misunderstanding</a>. Retrieved 2021-03-06, from - Reference: DW#46-11729.