Restricting antibiotics sales to those with medical prescriptions only is a central strategy for promoting appropriate use and containing antibiotic resistance; however, many low and middle income countries have not enforced policies that prevent widespread self-medication with antibiotics. In 2010, the Mexican government announced the enforcement of antibiotic sales regulations, a policy that gained media prominence. This study analyzes media coverage of issues, stakeholder representation, and positions taken during policy agenda setting, drafting, and implementation to shed light on policy making to promote appropriate antibiotic utilization.
We carried out a quantitative content analysis of 322 newspaper articles published between January 2009 and December 2010 in 18 national and regional newspapers. Additionally, we conducted a qualitative content analysis to understand the positions adopted and strategies developed by nine key stakeholders. Framing theory guided the analysis.
The Ministry of Health dominated media coverage, justifying the enforcement policy by focusing on risks of self-medication, and to a lesser degree dangers of increasing antibiotic resistance. Pharmacy associations appeared to be the leading opponents, arguing that the policy created logistical difficulties and corruption, and had negative economic impact for pharmacies and their clients. The associations developed strategies against the regulation such as attempting to delay implementation and installing physicians’ consultation offices within pharmacies. While medical associations and academic institutions called for a comprehensive strategy to combat antibiotic resistance, improve prescription quality, and create public awareness, these issues had little impact on media coverage. Consumer groups and legislators received very little media coverage.
The narrowly-focused and polarized media coverage ─centred on problems of self- medication and economic impact ─ was a missed opportunity to publicly discuss and to develop a comprehensive national strategy on antibiotic use in Mexico. It highlights the need for discussing and developing interventions within the framework of a pharmaceutical policy.