Chinese children are becoming deaf at an alarming rate of 30,000 per year since 2008. The reason may surprise you: improper use of antibiotics.
Imagine that it’s winter time and you are the parent of sick children who have missed a week of school already and they need something stronger than the usual home remedies to beat the cold or infection. You would take them to a doctor who would prescribe antibiotics, right? Now imagine if the doctor became awkward while prescribing the medication, giving you a warning to not give too much to your children because these are adult doses. So you carefully give no more than a quarter of the medication to your children, only to find that they are losing their hearing. This has been the reality for thousands of parents in China for the past several years.
Antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections, such as the common cold and pneumonia. Adults can beat the common cold fairly quickly with the aid of antibiotics, whereas pneumonia is more severe and requires much higher doses of antibiotics. There are naturally occurring antibiotics in nature, such as honey. The popular remedy for the common cold is a lemon and honey tea, and this simple mixture usually works because of the antibiotics in the honey. For medications to treat serious coughs and pneumonia, higher concentrates of antibiotics are produced, making the medication much more potent. For adults, this higher concentration is safe.
However, it is a different story for children. Children are much smaller in size and their immune systems are still developing, they cannot handle high concentrations of medication yet. Therefore an adult’s dosage of medication would be disastrous for a child’s still developing immune system. This is why when purchasing medication at the store, the children’s and adults’ are always separate and marketed individually. The dosage amounts are different, with the children’s containing smaller doses.
The current situation in China is that there is a country-wide abuse of antibiotics and the hospitals simply do not have access to children’s medications. Too many people are buying, producing, and using antibiotics and none are properly measured doses. The doctors have always been apprehensive about prescribing medication for children as they are never completely confident about the dosage amount, leading to parents guessing and giving the incorrect amount, overwhelming their children’s bodies and causing them to lose their hearing. Sometimes the the children build up such resistance to the antibiotics that the medication actually accelerates the initial infection.
The Chinese government’s policies are currently interfering with the hospitals’ access to proper medication, resulting in a country-wide antibiotic crisis. The national government has already taken steps to remedy this, but it will be a long time before the situation can be alleviated.
For the time being, the demand for hearing aids and cochlear implants have risen and more and more children are entering deaf schools/institutions.