By Almas Shamim

My father is one of those people who are doctors without going to a medical college. And if he needs specialist advice, there is always the pharmacy shop round the corner! The said pharmacy shop is THE most favourite of all old-timers living in the vicinity of the G.B. Pant Hospital. Since I might err while recounting others’ relations with the said pharmacy shop, I shall stick to surmising my own father’s relation with it.

So, the moment my abbu (as I call my father) realizes that the machinery of his body is not running as smoothly as he deems fit, he sets out to diagnose himself; the diagnoses, depending on the range of symptoms, usually varying from the very obvious “thanda lagna”, to “nas chadhna”, “naabh sarakna” and the very elusive “hook lagna”. Now, I’ve tried hard to find any shift in abbu’s belly button or the hook in our house which is to blame for so many episodes of illness, but to no avail. In any case, after the ritual blaming my mother for giving abbu a glass of milk or banana or brinjal or any-food-under-the-sun that could have been the reason for his illness, he ventures out to get some maalish, some pulling and pushing and some “jhaadna” from other old-timers, the numbers of whom are, sadly, dwindling systematically in our basti. And IF these time tested remedies fail to work on abbu’s body, off he goes to his specialist friend at the pharmacy shop and brings back allopathic medicines which are, nine times out of ten, the antibiotic Amoxicillin. Yes, irrespective of the symptoms, irrespective of the ‘diagnosis’ and irrespective of the nature of the illness, my abbu buys and consumes Amox. AND it does cure him! *rolling eyes*

Yes, there have been other instances as well, where my family has linked a super-duper expensive brand of a medicine that treats acidity, to a pain in my mother’s arm and gone to the extent of ordering this anti-acidity tablet from Chennai; or where abbu has been told to take a certain liver tonic since my abbu is such a chronic – no, not alcoholic- such a chronic ‘smoker’ and the organ smoking would most seriously effect is the liver! (Should be lungs)

But, the rampant use of Amox (or any other antibiotic) is a whole new ball game. Antibiotics, as we know, are used to treat infections- to kill or stop the growth of microorganisms called bacteria. There are also anti-virals against viral infections and anti-fungals to be used against fungal infections. These medicines should be taken at the correct dose and in the prescribed frequency (two times, three times a day etc) for the complete effect. Improper consumption may actually have only half the effect of the medicine- so the microorganisms will be modified but may not die! These modified microorganisms may (and research shows, HAVE) become RESISTANT to further action by the antibiotics, meaning, the patient may take the correct dose of medicines at the correct time for the correct number of days, but still, the medicines will fail to act on the microorganisms. These resistant organisms are then transmitted from one person to another person, who will have acquired an infection which is ALREADY RESISTANT to its usual medicine. This chain of spread leads to a problematic situation where most of the antibiotics available in the market FAIL TO TREAT most of the infections circulating in the population. The medicines, however, continue to cause their usual side effects. This problem is added on to by the fact that not many new antibiotics are being developed. And the few that may be developed may be too expensive for people to afford.

It, thus, becomes very important for us to be careful with the way we consume our antimicrobials. Whether we were prescribed the correct medicine or not is, obviously, not within our control, but, a little query at the time of getting a prescription from a ‘doctor’ would tell us which one, from the list of medicines, is an antibiotic. We could then also confirm with our doctor if it is really needed and if yes, we must follow prescription advice to the dot. Repeated failure of an antibiotic regimen could mean that we are already resistant to it. Rather than hopping around from one antibiotic to another we could request our doctor for a ‘drug sensitivity testing’ which will help the doctor get a rough idea of which antibiotic to prescribe.

Meanwhile, in my home, there are standing orders for my mummy to seize all Amox tablets lying around and abbu is requested to have a ‘dialogue’ with me before blindly embarking on regimens prescribed by his favourite-est pharmacy shop! 

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.