Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect
anyone, of any age, in any country, the U.N.'s World Health
Organisation (WHO) said in a report. It is now a major threat to
public health, of which "the implications will be devastating".
"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 Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant
director-general for health security.
In its first global report on antibiotic resistance, with data from
114 countries, the WHO said superbugs able to evade event the
hardest-hitting antibiotics — a class of drugs called carbapenems — has now been found in all regions of the world.
Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics,
which encourages bacteria to develop new ways of overcoming them.
Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to
market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to
find more as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into "superbugs"
resistant to even the most powerful last-resort medicines reserved
for extreme cases.
One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to kill
around 19,000 people every year in the United States — far more than
HIV and AIDS — and a similar number in Europe.
THE DRUGS DON'T WORK
The WHO said in some countries, because of resistance, carbapenems
now do not work in more than half of people with common
hospital-acquired infections caused by a bacteria called K.
pneumoniae, such as pneumonia, blood infections, and infections in
newborn babies and intensive-care patients.
Resistance to one of the most widely used antibiotics for treating
urinary tract infections caused by E. coli -medicines called
fluoroquinolones — is also very widespread, it said.
In the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced, resistance was
virtually zero, according to the WHO report. But now there are
countries in many parts of the world where the drugs are ineffective
in more than half of patients.
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"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,
"Fukuda said in a statement.
Laura Piddock, director of Antibiotic Action campaign group and a
professor of microbiology at Britain's Birmingham University, said
the world needed to respond as it did to the AIDS crisis of the
"Defeating drug resistance will require political will, commitment
from all stakeholders and considerable investment in research,
surveillance and stewardship programs," she said.
Jennifer Cohn of the international medical charity Médecins Sans
Frontières agreed with the WHO's assessment and confirmed the
problem had spread to many corners of the world.
"We see horrendous rates of antibiotic resistance wherever we look
in our field operations, including children admitted to nutritional
centers in Niger, and people in our surgical and trauma units in
Syria," she said.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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