Health experts at a conference held Thursday in Hanoi blamed the widespread use of over-the-counter antibiotics for their rising drug resistance.
News website VnExpress cited figures from the conference as revealing that no prescription was involved in 88 percent of antibiotics sales in the country’s cities.
That figure was 91 percent in rural areas.
Most antibiotics are now no longer effective in treating bacterial infections, officials said during talks aimed at creating a national action program to fight drug resistance through 2020.
They blamed pharmaceutical retailers and members of the public for arbitrarily using antibiotics in unnecessary cases.
Cao Hung Thai, deputy director of the Examination and Treatment Department at the Health Ministry, said drug-resistance is rising quickly and has put greater burden on patients who require longer, costlier treatment regimens.
Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the National Tropical Diseases Hospital, said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that antibiotics are bought and sold at many pharmacies in Vietnam as easily as vegetables.
“Vietnamese people have the habit of using antibiotics like eating rice (Vietnam’s daily staple). They go out to the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics anytime they feel sick.”
Kinh said that the majority of Vietnam's street corner pharmacists lack proper medical training and routinely disregard regulations that require prescriptions for antibiotic sales.
A 2010 survey of nearly 3,000 pharmacies in cities and rural areas in northern Vietnam revealed low public awareness about the relation between antibiotic abuse and drug resistance.
Pharmaceutical staff proved equally ignorant, particularly in rural communities.
The survey found nearly half of antibiotics sold in cities lacked a prescription and 29 percent in rural areas. The survey found that antibiotics contributed to 13 percent of the pharmacy revenues in cities and nearly 19 percent in rural areas.
As a result, many people have become resistant to certain kinds of antibiotics and doctors now have to rely on antibiotic cocktails to treat their patient.
Among 443 medical records selected at random during a survey conducted at the Hue Central Hospital in 2012, only one involved the prescription of a single antibiotic.
Most of those surveyed received three different antibiotics; 43 patients were given two kinds; 34 others received six or more.
Nguyen Thi Xuyen, vice minister of health, said antibiotic resistance began in the late 1960s and has grown into a global health threat.
Xuyen said the problem is bigger to Vietnam where the large number of bacterial diseases make the use of antibiotics extremely necessary.
She said the ministry would order city/provincial health departments to make uninformed visits to pharmacies to check on the sale of antibiotics.