Experts from Europe and WHO (World Health Organization) say a considerable number of infections are becoming harder to treat because of drug resistance; treatments are getting longer and more costly, and much more life-threatening. WHO urges governments, doctors, scientists, industry and civil society to take urgent and determined action to stem the spread of drug resistance.

European experts say antibiotic-resistant infections are occurring at a rate that outstrips our ability to fight them with current medications. In the European Union over 25,000 patients die annually from drug-resistant infections that even our latest antibiotics cannot destroy.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, said:

“The message on this World Health Day is loud and clear. The world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures. In the absence of urgent corrective and protective actions, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated.”

WHO proposes a policy package to address drug resistance, which should include:

  • The development and implementation of a thorough, well financed national plan
  • Enhance surveillance and laboratory capability
  • Make sure access to vital and top quality medications is uninterrupted
  • Promote and regulate proper use of drugs
  • Improve infection prevention and control
  • Encourage research and development, and innovation for new tools

We have done this before, WHO explains, with such diseases as leprosy, gonorrhea, syphilis and TB (tuberculosis). However, as drug resistance grows and spreads relentlessly, those discoveries and medications that followed them are at risk of being useless.

Microorganisms naturally acquire resistance to medications designed to destroy them, it is a biological phenomenon. The bugs with the resistant gene thrive, become more dominant still, and eventually the medication has no effect. Drug resistance thrives on improper use of infection-fighting medicines, such as misuse, underuse and overuse of drugs.

There were over 440,000 new cases of multidrug resistant-tuberculosis in 2010. Drug-resistant TB has become a growing problem in 69 countries.

Even the latest generation of drugs are becoming less effective in treating malaria. Gonorrhea and shigella are becoming harder to treat.

The number of hospital-acquired infections that are hard to treat is growing rapidly. In the modern world, where people travel across the globe continuously and rapidly, microorganisms spread everywhere in a short time.

Resistance to antiretroviral drugs for HIV positive patients is also emerging.

Dr. Chan said:

“On this World Health Day, WHO is issuing a policy package to get everyone, especially governments and their drug regulatory systems, on the right track, with the right measures, quickly. The trends are clear and ominous. No action today means no cure tomorrow. At a time of multiple calamities in the world, we cannot allow the loss of essential medicines – essential cures for many millions of people – to become the next global crisis.”

Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of WHO Stop TB Department, said:

“WHO has established many initiatives to understand and address drug resistance over the last decade, particularly in relation to some of the world’s most deadly infectious diseases. Those measures must now be further strengthened and implemented urgently across many diseases and across many sectors. New collaborations, led by governments working alongside civil society and health professionals, if accountable, can halt the public health threat of drug resistance.”

In order to address the growing problem of drug resistance, civil society, health care professionals and other groups can contribute significantly.

Pharmacists and physicians should dispense and prescribe only the best medications for a particular patient, rather than routinely going for the best-known or newest drugs.

Patients need to learn that demanding antibiotics may not be the most appropriate approach.

Health care professionals can have a considerable impact on stemming the spread of infection in hospitals and other health care facilities.

Antibiotics are used in animal feed production, which contribute to more drug resistance. There should be close liaison between professionals who work in agriculture, human health and animal health.

Experts say that about half of all global antibiotic production is used to promote the growth of animals and prevent and treat sickness. A huge pool of drug resistant microorganisms have emerged in animals, which can eventually be transferred to human beings.

More research and development into new diagnostics and medications should be achieved through greater partnerships between industry and governments. Less than 5% of all current R&D products in the pipeline are antibiotic medications.

Scientists at Cardiff University, Wales, say new strains of resistant bacteria have been found in New Delhi in the public water supply. This is the first evidence of the environmental spread of NDM-1, an organism only found in hospitals. The scientists say urgent action is needed to stop the global spread of new strains. (Link)

“World Health Day – 7 April 2011”
World Health Organization

Written by Christian Nordqvist