If immediate action is not taken, we risk falling into a post-antibiotic era where everyday infections and injuries can kill once again, according to a report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“This serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country,” said WHO in a media announcement.
This is the first time that the organization, which is the United Nation’s primary body for international public health, has looked at antimicrobial, and therefore antibiotic, resistance on a global scale, and the results are damning.
“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,” said WHO’s assistant director-general for health security Dr Keiji Fukuda.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern, as bacteria can rapidly evolve to become resistant to over-used treatments. While the over-use of certain drugs is partly to blame, the increasing use of antibiotics in animals intended for human consumption has also played a part.
The report found that resistance to carbapenem antibiotics, used as last-resort treatments when no other antibacterial medicine has worked, has spread worldwide. This is caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria, which is behind many hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia.
Other specific widespread resistances include a treatment for E. coli, which has gone from having a resistance level of zero in the 1980s to over 50% in some parts of the world.
There’s bad news too for condom forgetters everywhere; the last-resort treatment for gonorrhoea has been confirmed as treatment failure in ten countries, including Australia, the UK and Canada, and WHO warns that 1 million people get infected every single day.
“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine,” explained Fukuda.
“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.”
Concerningly, WHO reports that basic tools in the fight against antibiotic resistance are missing in many parts of the world. The organization believes that “ every country and individual needs to do more”, and is using the report to initiate a global fight against the issue.
For normal people, WHO is reminding people to only use antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor, always complete the full prescription no matter how well you feel and never use leftover or shared prescriptions.
Health workers are asked to enhance infection control and prevention, hold back on prescribing unless absolutely necessary and only prescribe the right antibiotics for the illness.
Governments, however, are being asked to pony up for better laboratories and resistance tracking facilities, promote appropriate medicine use and fund the research and development of tools to fight antibiotic resistance.