Penicillin: A Modern Antibiotic or a Drug of the Past?

louisBy Louis Jamart

Louis is a Human Scientist, part of the Pills and Policies team, and keen rower.


Two pills. Four times a day. Ten days straight.

Imagine the pain caused by changes in air pressure as a plane takes-off or lands. Or the same suffering caused by your first experience scuba-diving when you forget to blow into your blocked nose to relieve the pressure from your ears as you descend. Imagine that pain. Now imagine it persisting for 24 hours non-stop for over a week. On Monday two weeks ago I was diagnosed with Streptococcal Pharyngitis, or, to put it more bluntly as my friends prefer: “a simple case of bacterial tonsillitis” – a few days of Penicillin V and it’s solved! Right?

As I took my 8 pills per day, over the course of the week my symptoms only worsened. In my hopeless attempt to self-diagnose and convince myself I was not “dying”, I dared to take the risk of venturing online. To my surprise, I discovered case after case on internet chat groups of individuals complaining of the same inefficacity of the penicillin antibiotic – the global text-book medicine prescribed for tonsillitis. I decided to look into penicillin to understand the effect of the drug on my body, and to my horror, found myself confronted with a terrible truth.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the largest problems we, as a human race, are faced with within the coming half-century  yet nobody is talking about it! Bacteria are not limited by borders like humans, and routine operations today could become deadly within the next twenty years. So how does bacterial resistance work? What effect does the overuse of antibiotics have? What is the future looking like for antibiotics today? Could my tonsillitis have actually killed me? Intrigued? Read-on.

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AIDS – A Crisis for Us All: Lessons from the History of Gonorrhoea and Syphilis

By Anthony O’Driscoll

Anthony is a postgraduate Law student, with a background in Human Sciences. He writes on Policy, Bioethics, Medicine, Public Health and society. 


Can history inform our views and subsequently our approach to problems brought forward by the AIDS Epidemic?

This question poses no certain answer, not least because there is no clear consensus on the construction of disease history. Societal responses to disease are guided by values routed in cultural, social and moral institutional precepts. This is perhaps most evident in AIDS, where our understanding has been warped by structures of identity, oppression, subversion and fear. Far from figurative, the fabrication of our perceptions have terribly important consequences – not only for the way we frame, approach and conceptualise disease policy – but also for the way in which social actors build a risk narrative in relation to their own proximity to morbid outcomes. Venereal disease is often unique in that the victims are seen as the cause and the embodiment of the disease. This builds a narrative of – ‘them and us’ – where there is a tendency to disengage from the pertinent problems at hand. In searching for groups to blame, do we pervert policy with ineffective social and cultural frames that hinder progression? In response let us consider three ages of venereal disease.

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HIV Stigma is Institutional; Simply Raising Awareness Won’t Help

As part of World AIDS Day, Pills and Policies attended a panel discussion on HIV stigma at the University of Oxford. This was organised by Sexpression, Oxford LGBTQ Society, Terrence Higgins Trust and Oxford University Student Union (OUSU).


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From left to right, the experts: Ant Babajee, Dr Catherine Dodds, Marija Pantelic, Professor Sarah Rowland-Jones, and Tom Gardiner 


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