The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a pretty dire report about the rise in antimicrobial resistance, including antibiotic resistance across the world.
What this means is that bacteria are evolving in a way that antibiotics no longer work.
“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security, has said.
“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating,” Dr. Fukuda said.
This is as serious a warning as it could get about global public health. WHO’s latest report ‘Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance’ says something particularly striking about seven different bacteria responsible for serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea.
“The results are cause for high concern, documenting resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics, in all regions of the world,” it has said.
I reproduce the key WHO’s findings from its website:
- Resistance to the treatment of last resort for life-threatening infections caused by a common intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae–carbapenem antibiotics–has spread to all regions of the world. K. pneumoniae is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborns and intensive-care unit patients. In some countries, because of resistance, carbapenem antibiotics would not work in more than half of people treated for K. pneumoniae infections.
- Resistance to one of the most widely used antibacterial medicines for the treatment of urinary tract infections caused by E. coli–fluoroquinolones–is very widespread. In the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced, resistance was virtually zero. Today, there are countries in many parts of the world where this treatment is now ineffective in more than half of patients.
- Treatment failure to the last resort of treatment for gonorrhoea–third generation cephalosporins–has been confirmed in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom. More than 1 million people are infected with gonorrhoea around the world every day.
- Antibiotic resistance causes people to be sick for longer and increases the risk of death. For example, people with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are estimated to be 64% more likely to die than people with a non-resistant form of the infection. Resistance also increases the cost of health care with lengthier stays in hospital and more intensive care required.
The organization also prescribes some pretty common-sense fixes as a first step.
People can tackle resistance by
- using antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor;
- completing the full prescription, even if they feel better;
- never sharing antibiotics with others or using leftover prescriptions.
Health workers and pharmacists can help tackle resistance by:
- enhancing infection prevention and control;
- only prescribing and dispensing antibiotics when they are truly needed;
- prescribing and dispensing the right antibiotic(s) to treat the illness.
Policymakers can help tackle resistance by:
- strengthening resistance tracking and laboratory capacity;
- regulating and promoting appropriate use of medicines.
Policymakers and industry can help tackle resistance by:
- fostering innovation and research and development of new tools;
- promoting cooperation and information sharing among all stakeholders.