WHO partners with Vancouver tech company to help doctors prescribe the right antibiotic drugs

The WHO says the overuse of antibiotics is leading to antimicrobial resistance, which contributes to millions of deaths worldwide each year. (CBC - image credit)
The WHO says the overuse of antibiotics is leading to antimicrobial resistance, which contributes to millions of deaths worldwide each year. (CBC - image credit)

The World Health Organization has selected a Vancouver tech health company to distribute its latest guidance on the use of antibiotics.

It's the first time the WHO has created a guide for health-care providers prescribing antibiotics.

The WHO says antimicrobial resistance is a threat to global health and contributes to millions of deaths worldwide each year and attributes it in part to "inappropriate use and overuse" of antibiotics.

The new handbook, called the AWaRe Antibiotic Book, is aimed at helping physicians prescribe the right drugs in the right amounts for more than 30 of the most common clinical infections in children and adults.

Aware handbook available on app

Vancouver-based Firstline has been selected as the company to distribute the handbook on a global scale through its website and free app.

Chief strategy officer Jason Buck says the guide will be an easy-to-use tool for prescribers when considering which antibiotic to prescribe their patients.

"It's normally working your way down a decision tree or a guidance pathway for treating a 12-year-old with meningitis in the ER, for example," he explained.


According to Buck and the WHO, the guide will be especially useful in places around the world where the WHO is the only reliable source of health guidance.

"It will be used by people who don't have access to the experts at Fraser Health or Vancouver Island Health or Interior, etc.," said Buck. "In other countries, there is simply no effective dissemination of clinical knowledge, so doctors are acting on habit or out of their guidance or even no guidance."

Canadian researchers produced antibiotic database

The research that led to the creation of the Aware handbook is also a Canadian contribution.

The database and classification of antibiotics were created by a team of scientists at McMaster University, led by Mark Loeb, a professor and infectious diseases physician.

Loeb says they determine which drugs are best at treating certain conditions — also called efficacy — by looking at the results of randomized controlled trials.

"There were trials that would compare one antibiotic versus another antibiotic, and so we made a determination based on calling the evidence for all of these syndromes," he said.

Loeb says that work also led to the creation of a category of antibiotics classified as "reserve" antibiotics.

According to the definition on the Firstline app, reserve antibiotics are only to be used as a "last resort" to treat life-threatening infections due to drug-resistant bacteria.

"They might be more likely to lead to some sort of resistance. Those you want to watch," explained Loeb.

"Where you have the sort of designer antibiotics that, you know, you don't want people using every day. You want it to be very selective, very specific because if you overuse it, resistance can develop with those."

The Firstline app says the use of reserve antibiotics should be closely monitored.