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Soc Sci Med. 1998 Jan;46(1):29-38.

An economic perspective on policy to reduce antimicrobial resistance.

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Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, UK.


Resistance to antimicrobial drugs is increasing worldwide. This resistance is, at least in part, associated with high antimicrobial usage. Despite increasing awareness, economists (and policy analysts more generally) have paid little attention to the problem. In this paper antimicrobial resistance is conceptualised as a negative externality associated with the consumption of antimicrobials and is set within the broader context of the costs and benefits associated with antimicrobial usage. It is difficult to determine the overall impact of attempting to reduce resistance, given the extremely limited ability to model the epidemiology of resistant and sensitive micro-organisms. It is assumed for the purposes of the paper, however, that dealing with resistance by reducting antimicrobial usage would lead to a positive societal benefit. Three policy options traditionally associated with environmental economics (regulation, permits and charges) are examined in relation to their potential ability to impact upon the problem of resistance. The primary care sector of the U.K.'s National Health Service provides the context for this examination. Simple application of these policies to health care is likely to be problematic, with difficulties resulting particularly from the potential reduction in clinical freedom to prescribe when appropriate, and from the desire for equity in health care provision. The paper tentatively concludes that permits could offer the best policy response to antimicrobial resistance, with the caveat that empirical research is needed to develop the most practical and efficient system. This research must be conducted alongside the required epidemiological research.

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