Health – Antibiotic use declines, but still higher than many countries

By slowing the rate of antibiotic resistance, New Zealand can preserve the success rate of antibiotics against infectious disease for many years.

An analysis of antibiotic dispensing data for more than four million New Zealanders over a six-year period reveals that there has been a reduction in the rate of antibiotics dispensed, but that New Zealand’s use of antibiotics still remains higher than comparable countries.

Associate Professor Mark Thomas of the Medical School at the University of Auckland led the study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

He said, “The data shows we’re on the right path, but we have some way to go. By reducing our rate of inappropriate antibiotic dispensing, we can slow the rise of antibiotic resistance.”

By slowing the rate of antibiotic resistance, New Zealand can preserve the success rate of antibiotics against infectious disease for many years.

The researchers found that total community antibiotic dispensing, defined as daily doses per 1000 people decreased by 13.8 per cent between 2015 and 2018. The greatest reductions happened in small children up to four years of age.

Mark Thomas said, “Until 2012, the total amount of antibiotics from community pharmacies increased each year, but since 2015, we’ve seen a decline.” He puts this down to a concerted campaign by Pharmac and other health organisations letting people know that antibiotics won’t fix a cold or a flu.

While the trend was positive, he said New Zealand’s rate of antibiotic prescribing was still high, 3.3 times greater than Sweden, more than twice the rate of Denmark and 1.3 times greater than the US.

Thomas said, “These are marked differences. You might conclude that about 50 per cent of antibiotic dispensing in New Zealand was inappropriate. However New Zealand does differ from a number of comparison countries in that we have Maori and Pacific communities who experience higher rates of infectious disease.” 

The research team recommended that a further 25 per cent reduction in antibiotic dispensing for people of non-Māori and non-Pacific ethnicity could be achieved without any negative effects on people’s health. However, the team recommended a small (2 per cent) increase in antibiotic prescribing for people of Māori and Pacific people, because of concerns about their higher rates of infectious diseases.

In all people, regardless of ethnicity, there is excessive prescribing of antibiotics for people with coughs and colds. This should be the target for reducing antibiotic use in all population groups.


The paper Reduced community antibiotic resistant in New Zealand during 2015-2018: marked variation in relation to primary health organisation, Mark Thomas, Andrew Tomlin, Eamon Duffy, Murray Tilyard, has been published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

ENDS