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Levels and determinants of over-prescribing of antibiotics in the public and private primary care sectors in South Africa

Lagarde, Mylène ORCID: 0000-0002-5713-2659 and Blaauw, Duane (2023) Levels and determinants of over-prescribing of antibiotics in the public and private primary care sectors in South Africa. BMJ Global Health, 8 (7). ISSN 2059-7908

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Identification Number: 10.1136/bmjgh-2023-012374


Although overprovision of antibiotics in primary care is a key driver of antibiotic resistance, little is known about its determinants in low-income and middle-income countries. Patient demand and financial incentives for providers are often held responsible for overprovision. Yet, inadequate provision exists in their absence and could be fuelled by quality of care issues and incorrect beliefs of providers regarding patients' expectations. We explored these issues in the private and public sector in South Africa, by conducting a cross-sectional study using standardised patients (SPs) - healthy individuals trained to portray a scripted clinical case to providers - presenting with symptoms of a viral respiratory infection in a sample of public and private sector clinics. We linked data from SP visits to rich survey data to compare the practices and their predictors in the two sectors. Unnecessary rates of antibiotics were similarly high in the public (78%) and private sector (67%), but private providers prescribed more antibiotics at higher risk of resistance development. In the private sector, overprescription of antibiotics diminished when consultations were more thorough, but increased for consultations scheduled later in the day, suggesting contrasting effects for provider effort and decision fatigue. We observed differences in beliefs that could be responsible for overprescription: in the public sector, a majority of providers (nurses) wrongly believed that antibiotics would help the patient recover more quickly. In the private sector, a majority of doctors thought patients would not come back if they did not receive antibiotics. Overall, this evidence suggests that different factors may be responsible for the high overprescribing rates of antibiotics in the public and private sectors. Tailored stewardship interventions are urgently needed that tackle providers' engrained habits and incorrect beliefs.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author(s)
Divisions: Health Policy
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RS Pharmacy and materia medica
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2023 09:15
Last Modified: 22 Jul 2024 03:03

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