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MMS raises awareness over improper use of antibiotics on board vessels

MMS raises awareness over improper use of antibiotics on board vessels

(Posted on 29/03/24)

Leading provider of medical support services for crews, Marine Medical Solutions (MMS), is concerned over the rise in crew members being given unnecessary antibiotics which may reduce the effectiveness of these vital medications in the future.

The company says that ships’ Masters should ideally seek medical input whenever they feel the need to give seafarers antibiotics as this type of medication is only of benefit when treating a bacterial infection. Impropriate or overuse of antibiotics does lead to antibiotic resistance and contribute to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains which will leave not only seafarers but also the wider population at greater future risk when they do develop a bacterial infection and this could eventually lead to economic losses for maritime.

Doctor Jens Tülsner, CEO at MMS, said, "We are witnessing a troubling trend where Masters and seafarers, with little medical knowledge, are resorting to antibiotics as a quick fix for various health issues onboard vessels. The improper use of antibiotics not only fails to address the root cause of the illness, for example it will have no impact on viral infections such as colds and influenza or other more serious illnesses, but may also leave users vulnerable to unnecessary and unpleasant side effects.

“Masters are expected to make difficult decisions based on limited medical knowledge and we would like them to feel free to seek professional medical assistance, such as telemedical consultations, when faced with health issues onboard. By doing so, we can ensure timely and appropriate medical care for seafarers, mitigating the risks of serious illnesses and economic losses,” he said.

Ships’ Masters have the authority to make medical decisions, including the administration of pharmaceuticals, but only receive scant medical training prior to taking command of a vessel and the associated responsibility for crew health and wellbeing. This lack of medical expertise has led to a concerning pattern where antibiotics are being handed out prematurely, prolonging or exacerbating health issues rather than resolving them, says MMS, and in some cases, seafarers are even bringing their own antibiotics onboard and self-prescribing.

Failure to seek appropriate medical advice has resulted in a substantial number of seafarers with advanced stages of illnesses, requiring hospitalisation and repatriation. This not only places a significant financial burden on maritime companies but also disrupts operations and jeopardises the wellbeing of crew members, the company said.

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