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What guides parent decision-making about their kids using antibiotics?

This article appears in: Health
Mother giving medication to sick child

Children are among the highest users of antibiotics around the globe. Here in Australia, antibiotic use in children under the age of nine is around three times higher than comparable countries like Norway or the Netherlands, according to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare.

While medical professionals prescribing antibiotics contribute to their overuse, parents are ultimately the decision-makers tasked with administering medication—and administering medication correctly. 

Stephanie Marsh, a Higher Degree by Research student at CDU, is examining what guides parent decision-making about their children’s use of antibiotic medicines, particularly in rural contexts where guidance from family and friends may inform decisions.

Territory focus

“We know that from international research there is quite a strong link between poor access to healthcare and high rates of parents using antibiotics without seeing a doctor,” Stephanie says. 

In a number of studies parents made decisions about their child’s antibiotic use based on advice from their personal support network. This means parents from rural and remote areas with reduced access to healthcare professionals might be influenced more by the advice of people around them.

Her research explores this finding in an Australian sample of parents, using a number of studies and research approaches.

“The first study was qualitative and explored the opinions and practices of parents living in remote areas of the Australian Northern Territory regarding their children’s antibiotic use. Study two involved an in-depth review of the literature to assist with an understanding of parent decision-making towards their children’s antibiotic use in rural and remote settings. This will be followed by quantitative research conducted with parents.”

“Once we understand what drives behaviour, we can tailor an intervention to target the specific drivers.”

Avoiding AMR

Antibiotics might seem innocuous enough, but using them too often, or incorrectly, contributes to the emergence of bacterial resistance.

The overuse and misuse of antibiotic medicines accelerates the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) or drug resistant bacteria. This means the bacteria may mutate faster and survive antibiotic exposure, making antibiotics less effective.

As a mother, Stephanie could empathise with some of the challenges faced by parents with sick children. As a health researcher, she was driven by the complex public health implications posed by AMR.

“Antimicrobial resistance affects everyone. The misuse of antibiotics has health implications at both the individual level for the child, and more broadly for the emergence and spread of drug resistant bacteria in the community.”

“I hope these insights can provide guidance for future research into the management of AMR in resource-limited settings.”

CDU is seeking Higher Degree by Research students to part in research projects just like these. Scholarships are available. Learn more.

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