Antibiotic overuse in the primary health care setting: A secondary data analysis of standardised patient studies from India, China and Kenya

Giorgia Sulis, Benjamin Daniels, Ada Kwan, Sumanth Gandra, Amrita Daftary, Jishnu Das, Madhukar Pai

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35 Scopus citations


Introduction Determining whether antibiotic prescriptions are inappropriate requires knowledge of patients' underlying conditions. In low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), where misdiagnoses are frequent, this is challenging. Additionally, such details are often unavailable for prescription audits. Recent studies using standardised patients (SPs) offer a unique opportunity to generate unbiased prevalence estimates of antibiotic overuse, as the research design involves patients with predefined conditions. Methods Secondary analyses of data from nine SP studies were performed to estimate the proportion of SP-provider interactions resulting in inappropriate antibiotic prescribing across primary care settings in three LMICs (China, India and Kenya). In all studies, SPs portrayed conditions for which antibiotics are unnecessary (watery diarrhoea, presumptive tuberculosis (TB), angina and asthma). We conducted descriptive analyses reporting overall prevalence of antibiotic overprescribing by healthcare sector, location, provider qualification and case. The WHO Access-Watch-Reserve framework was used to categorise antibiotics based on their potential for selecting resistance. As richer data were available from India, we examined factors associated with antibiotic overuse in that country through hierarchical Poisson models. Results Across health facilities, antibiotics were given inappropriately in 2392/4798 (49.9%, 95% CI 40.8% to 54.5%) interactions in India, 83/166 (50.0%, 95% CI 42.2% to 57.8%) in Kenya and 259/899 (28.8%, 95% CI 17.8% to 50.8%) in China. Prevalence ratios of antibiotic overuse in India were significantly lower in urban versus rural areas (adjusted prevalence ratio (aPR) 0.70, 95% CI 0.52 to 0.96) and higher for qualified versus non-qualified providers (aPR 1.55, 95% CI 1.42 to 1.70), and for presumptive TB cases versus other conditions (aPR 1.19, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.33). Access antibiotics were predominantly used in Kenya (85%), but Watch antibiotics (mainly quinolones and cephalosporins) were highly prescribed in India (47.6%) and China (32.9%). Conclusion Good-quality SP data indicate alarmingly high levels of antibiotic overprescription for key conditions across primary care settings in India, China and Kenya, with broad-spectrum agents being excessively used in India and China.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere003393
JournalBMJ Global Health
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 15 2020


  • epidemiology
  • other study design
  • treatment


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