WHO has warned yet again that misuse/overuse of antibiotics is threatening the health of of people all over the world. More resistant strains have emerged and the specter of a world without antibiotics looms large.
Statement by WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan here
When the first antibiotics were introduced in the 1940s, they were hailed as “wonder drugs”, the miracles of modern medicine. And rightly so. Widespread infections that killed many millions of people every year could now be cured. Major diseases, like syphilis, gonorrhoea, leprosy, and tuberculosis, lost much of their sting. The risk of death from something so common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee virtually vanished.
The powerful impact of these medicines sparked a revolution in the discovery of new drugs. The human condition took a dramatic turn for the better, with significant jumps in life expectancy.
The message on this World Health Day is loud and clear. The world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures.
The emergence and spread of drug-resistant pathogens has accelerated. More and more essential medicines are failing. The therapeutic arsenal is shrinking. The speed with which these drugs are being lost far outpaces the development of replacement drugs. In fact, the R&D pipeline for new antimicrobials has practically run dry.
The implications are equally clear. 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.
This natural process has been vastly accelerated and amplified by a number of human practices, behaviours, and policy failures. Collectively, the world has failed to handle these fragile cures with appropriate care. We have assumed that miracle cures will last forever, with older drugs eventually failing only to be replaced by newer, better and more powerful ones. This is not at all the trend we are see
The responsibility for turning this situation around is entirely in our hands. Irrational and inappropriate use of antimicrobials is by far the biggest driver of drug resistance. This includes overuse, when drugs are dispensed too liberally, sometimes to “be on the safe side”, sometimes in response to patient demand, but often for doctors and pharmacists to make more money.
This includes underuse, especially when economic hardship encourages patients to stop treatment as soon as they feel better, rather than complete the treatment course needed to fully kill the pathogen. This includes misuse, when drugs are given for the wrong disease, usually in the absence of a diagnostic test.
What you can do
– If you are prescribed antibiotics, complete the entire course, even if you’re feeling better.
– If you have a viral infection, don’t push your doctor for, or accept, antibiotics – they will have no effect.
– Practise good hygiene – including thorough hand-washing – to prevent the natural spread of bacteria.
– Avoid hospitals, rest homes, schools and other places if you are unwell.
– Encourage food producers to limit their use of antibiotics by buying organic food, especially meat.