A series of global health studies brought out by experts across the world found that drugs and medical interventions are routinely either overused or underused causing avoidable harm and suffering resulting in wastage of precious resources. Underuse of medical products and technologies leaves patients vulnerable to avoidable diseases and suffering whereas overuse causes harm from tests and treatments to the patients. The studies, commissioned by The Lancet journal and conducted by 27 international specialists found that rates of Caesarian section deliveries are soaring in women who do not actually need them while the simple use of steroids to prevent premature births has lagged for 40 years. A common practice in both rich and poor countries is the increasing use of expensive and sometimes ineffective technology while low-cost effective interventions are neglected. According to one of the lead authors of the study series, the factors driving the global failure in adopting the right level of medical care are greed and competing interests amongst the medical care providers and poor information access of the people. The researchers noted that a study in China found 57 per cent of patients received inappropriate antibiotics, inappropriate hysterectomies in the United States range from 16 to 70 per cent, and inappropriate total knee replacement rates were 26 per cent in Spain and 34 per cent in the United States.
Another revelation on health front came from the US government last week through its updated Dietary Guidelines which can have serious implications on the use of cholesterol drugs in future. The Guidelines told Americans not to worry so much about cholesterol in their diets, lots of coffee is fine and that skipping breakfast is no longer considered a health hazard. This update of the Dietary Guidelines was brought out after unusual scrutiny of the earlier set of Guidelines challenging whether dietary recommendations issued since 1977 have been based on sound science. These questions led to a Congressional hearing in October last and Congress later approved a measure that calls for the National Academy of Medicine to review how the earlier advice was generated. One of the key criticisms against the government was that it generated an advice which later proved to be unnecessary or exaggerated resulting in dropping the dietary cholesterol warning. A growing body of research examined the relationship between overall eating patterns, health, risk of chronic disease and findings on these relationships are sufficiently established to support dietary guidance. Eating patterns and the nutrient characteristics of food are the focus of the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines. In this context, a rethinking on the need for lifelong consumption of certain drugs is certainly relevant. Further scientific studies are thus called for to determine whether prolonged use of chemical drugs can be replaced with judicial consumption of nutrients, food supplements and diet control.