One in three use antibiotics without prescription, new study by WHO/Europe shows

One in three use antibiotics without prescription, new study by WHO/Europe shows

Copenhagen, 21 November 2022 

Only two thirds of people in 14 countries in the WHO European Region who took part in a recent survey, were able to say their last course of antibiotics was obtained with a medical prescription.

One in three either used leftover antibiotics from a previous prescription or obtained them without a prescription over the counter from a pharmacy or elsewhere.

This is at least three times more than that reported among EU/EEA countries, in their most recent survey of citizens by the European Commission.

These preliminary findings come from a new survey into the knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around antimicrobial resistance, (AMR), conducted for the first time ever in the eastern part of the WHO European Region, including the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Misconceptions on the use of antibiotics

In the EU/EEA alone, more than 35 000 people die each year as a direct consequence of infections that have become untreatable by antibiotics.

“When antibiotic drugs are used too much, for too long or when they are not necessary, bacteria can become resistant to them,” explains Dr Danilo Lo Fo Wong, WHO Regional Adviser for the Control of Antimicrobial Resistance. “Without collective action, we can expect a future in which otherwise treatable illnesses, such as urinary tract infections, could once again become untreatable and procedures such as surgeries or chemotherapy too dangerous to perform.”

50% of those surveyed across participating countries reported having used antibiotics in the last year, which is more than double that reported for EU/EEA countries for the same period.

61% of those surveyed were also unaware that antibiotics do not work against viruses, while over half believed, incorrectly, that they were effective against colds. In the EU/EEA however, half of the Europeans surveyed incorrectly believe that antibiotics kill viruses.

Dr Danilo Lo Fo Wong warns against using antibiotics for this purpose.

“Antibiotics cannot cure the common cold. A common cold is caused by a virus, against which antibiotics do not work,” he emphasises. “Though antibiotics will not help you, and instead their use may lead to the development of antibiotic resistance and become a problem for you and for someone else.”

As part of the survey, respondents were also asked whether they believed that unnecessary use of antibiotics made them ineffective, to which two-thirds gave the correct response.

On the occasion of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, highlighted the extent of the problem, calling AMR “the slow tsunami building up on the horizon.” “World Antimicrobial Awareness Week is both an opportunity to underline the gravity of the problem, and also help people to realize they can be part of the solution. Through activities such as this survey, we are gaining insights into people’s knowledge and behaviour regarding antibiotics and AMR. We can then take steps to make sure people are well informed about when and how to take these precious medicines.” he said.



  1. The survey that this article refers to was conducted in Albania , Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkiye and Uzbekistan.
  1. The survey used the same questions as the European Commission’s Eurobarometer survey of citizens in the EU/EEA and helps to provide a pan-European overview.

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