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Fertilising drug resistance through negligence

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Medical drugs and pesticides are meant to safeguard animal and plant life, elongating it whenever disease threatens to cut it short. As THOMAS KACHERE and SAMUEL KALIMIRA write, however, some people are using medical drugs and chemicals wrongly, taking antibiotics so frequently that they soon develop resistance; in other cases, wrong chemicals are applied to crops, putting consumers at risk.

Some Malawians have been living dangerously; sometimes knowingly, sometimes ignorantly.

This, according to researchers, is becoming common when it comes to the use of prescribed medicines.

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According to Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Programme (MLW), antibiotics have become one of the most abused medical drugs in Malawi, a development that fertilises the problem of drugresistance. MLW junior researcher, Dr Diana Kululanga, observed that the use of antibiotics without prescription was one of the factors contributing to outbreaks of infections related to drug-resistance.

Speaking on Tuesday, when he unpacked findings of MLW’s study into the issue during training aimed at equipping journalists with ethical journalism skills, she said it was worrying that such cases were on the rise in Malawi.

She said, through Clinicoriented Anti-microbial Resistance Surveillance Network, they had established that the use of antibiotics 3 Health Organisation, every 45 seconds, a person dies from an antibiotic-resistant infection globally.

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In the agriculture sector, some tomato and vegetable farmers are said to be applying chemicals aimed at prolonging the shelf life of goods at the point of sale, a development experts say puts consumers at the risk of falling sick.

A spot check at Jenda Trading Centre in Mzimba District, where some farmers are accused of applying chemicals such as Dithane— which are meant to be used in fields— to tomatoes and vegetables right in markets.

In December last year, the European Union (EU) withdrew the product from the market. Mancozeb is an active substance which is used in a number of pesticides. It is a fungicide that also works as an insecticide and is sold under the commercial names of Dithane, Manzeb, Manzane and Nemispot.

Mzimba District Director of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Ezra Mbendera attributed the
development to misconceptions that it could prolong the life of perishables such tomatoes and vegetables.

“Produce to which chemicals such as Dithane have been applied can only be consumed seven days after the day of application,” Mbendera said.

He said, through M’mbelwa District Council, farmers were being advised to stop applying such chemicals on points of sale, adding that doing so would compromise consumers’ health.

“There are various chemicals that are used in horticulture production like tomato production. We have Dithane and other fungicides—all of these are applied when the crop is in the field. But the current issue is that farmers are using it on the market.

“We are telling people to stop [the practice] because some of these chemicals are toxic in nature and when people consume them before seven days elapse, they are hazardous to health,” Mbendera said.

Northern Region Pesticides Inspector at Pesticides Control Board, Blessings Mulima, said his office was aware of the problem, which he said could only be addressed through a multi-faceted approach.

Mulima said consumers should be alert when buying goods.

“This has been a public outcry and we, as an office, are working with officials from the Ministry of Agriculture in Mzimba to civic-educate farmers so that they may stop misusing chemicals.

“However, this can only work if stakeholders work together,” Mulima said.

Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Grecian Lungu said the ministry was reaching out to farmers to sensitise them to the issue. The development comes barely a year after the EU withdrew Dithane from its markets as one way of saving consumers from harm.

“The protection of citizens and the environment from dangerous chemicals is a priority for the European Commission,” Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides announced at the time.

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