Doctors in sub-Saharan Africa have been advised against the over-prescription of pills for their patients.

According to new study authored by Richard Ofori-Asenso et al and published in the BMC Public Health Journal, doctors in Africa were over-prescribing drugs more than what the World Health Organisation recommends.

The researchers, from the University of London and Health Policy Consult (Ghana), found that in the 11 countries they surveyed, patients were prescribed an average of three per hospital visit instead of two drugs, the WHO suggests.

“Prescribing indicators for the African region deviate significantly from the WHO reference targets.

Profit-making, mainly private, health centres were found to be leading culprits because “there may be a financial incentive for over-prescribing.”

According to the WHO, “more than half of all medicines are prescribed, dispensed or sold inappropriately, and that half of all patients fail to take them correctly.”

Related: Here is why your pills are not fighting diseases like they used to - WHO reports

Effects of over-prescription

One of the causes of drug resistance is the over-prescription of drugs.  The WHO defines antimicrobial resistance as “when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change in ways that render the medications used to cure the infections they cause ineffective.”

“When the microorganisms become resistant to most antimicrobials they are often referred to as ‘superbugs’. This is a major concern because a resistant infection may kill, can spread to others, and imposes huge costs to individuals and society.”

It describes drug resistance as one of ‘the biggest threats’ to global health in contemporary times which leaves anyone living anywhere in the world at risk.

Some common diseases such as gonorrhoea, tuberculosis and pneumonia, have become very hard to fight because the well known remedies are no longer working.

“Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality”; the WHO warns.

Doctors are thus being advised to only prescribe antibiotics only when necessary, when tests have been carried out to identify the specific antibiotic the patient should have and increased work in that field.

“Increased collaborative efforts are urgently needed to improve medicine prescribing practices in Africa with the aim of enhancing the optimal utilization of scarce resources and averting negative health consequences” - said authors of the report.