The social dilemma of antibiotic use

2020-02-26T16:17:05Z (GMT) by E Krockow

Recently, I was in Cape Town, South Africa. It hadn’t rained in weeks, and the blazing sun had dried out entire riverbeds. The streets were dusty, leaves had turned brown. Water became a scarce commodity. The shower cabins at my hotel had been equipped with electric timers, all taps had been turned off and replaced with hand sanitiser, and people were encouraged to flush the toilet only when necessary.

I turned the situation into a personal competition; how quick could my shower be? However, many fellow visitors complained about the severe measures. And there’s no doubt that protecting a common resource as an individual can be challenging. This is due to specific aspects of the situation, which render it a social dilemma: the interests of society are in conflict with those of individual decision makers. Furthermore, a single person only makes a tiny contribution to the problem, so isn’t it tempting to take a longer shower? Nobody will ever know…

In the UK, droughts tend to be less of an issue. But there is a similar, less visible, resource problem, which requires our urgent attention – the decreasing availability of effective antibiotic drugs.

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