I read an article yesterday morning that stood out to me as being a particularly clear example of how we as a society can end up pouring good money after bad, for an apparently good reason. We are on the verge of a health crisis. I’m not speaking of health care reform, but instead of the rapid development and spread of superbugs that are resistant to all known antibiotics.
One of the best known superbugs, MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) now kills more Americans every year than AIDS. The scary part about it is that I understand that most people contract MRSA in hospitals while in for care for other conditions!
Many health care professionals and researchers attribute the rise in superbugs such as MRSA to the over-prescription and subsequent overuse of antibiotics. The argument goes that the bacteria have steadily gained the upper hand by virtue of an expedited process of natural selection since the advent of penicillin in the 1940s.
The NY Times article, titled “Antibiotics Research Subsidies Weighed by U.S.,” describes the challenge faced by policymakers: antibiotics are highly effective (until they are no longer effective) but unfortunately they are relatively less profitable for the pharmaceutical companies than drugs designed for cancer, diabetes and other diseases.
Taken on face value, the idea that we should find ways to make it easier to develop new antibiotics is a worthy cause, but such an approach fails to fix the problem, in fact, it specifically perpetuates it. What I don’t understand is why we would consider investing more into a failing strategy and expect different results.
A wise investor knows when to cut his losses. As Kenny Rogers sang “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
Antibiotics used rightly are a blessing. Antibiotics used incorrectly could lead to a disastrous outcome. I fear that we’ve only just begun to see the consequences of their misuse and my vote would be to find ways to strengthen the host so that the pathogens have less of a chance at overcoming our defenses in the first place.
We have to find the way to turn the platitude “Prevention is the best medicine” into a lifestyle embraced by the majority. The majority of medical dollars spent in the United States relate to preventable diseases and yet the majority of the health care policymakers remain fixated on the failing approach that is based in intervention, rather than prevention.
The sooner a deviation from the ideal course is identified and the earlier a correction is made, the better…in all spheres of life. This is especially true with health care. A weak host is more susceptible to infection and the weaker and the more unhealthy we allow ourselves to become as a nation the more likely it is that we will be trapped in the vicious antibiotic-dependent cycle Congress is contemplating funding.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter…