WHO: Major public health threat looms as antibiotic resistance increases

WHO: Major public health threat looms as antibiotic resistance increases

According to a new report by the World Health Organization, antimicrobial resistance poses a major public health threat and may throw the global population into a post-antibiotic era marked by common infections and minor injuries becoming lethal.

In April, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a detailed report describing a major threat to the public health of all nations, the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) among many common pathogens including bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses. The report offers chilling predictions of common infections and minor injuries becoming lethal because of diminished effectiveness of antibiotics. Many governments are devoting efforts and resources to this problem that “threatens the achievements of modern medicine.”

Far from being the plot of an apocalyptic science fiction story, the anticipated post-antibiotic era in which infections can no longer be controlled is a real possibility for the 21st Century, according to the report, the first ever WHO report on AMR. A post-antibiotic era is a period in which common bacteria achieve resistance to a variety of antibiotics and become untreatable. The risk will be equal across age, gender, and geographic location.

The report covered AMR in general but focused mainly on the antibiotic resistance of seven bacteria species that cause common, serious adverse health effects, including sepsis, diarrhea, pneumonia, gonorrhea, and urinary tract infections. What is most alarming is the documentation of increasing resistance to “last resort” antibiotics—drugs like amikacin and vancomycin.  Once resistance develops to these, the infections will kill.

“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,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security. “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.”

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