The world’s ability to practice medicine and treat both common and serious illnesses is at risk, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a new report analyzing global
misuse of antibiotics and the increasing spread of antimicrobial resistance.
“This is the single greatest challenge in infectious diseases today,” stated Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director-general for health security. “All types of microbes—including many viruses and parasites—are becoming resistant to medicines. Of particularly urgent concern is the development of bacteria that are progressively less treatable by available antibiotics. This is happening in all parts of the world, so all countries must do their part to tackle this global threat.”
Last year, in its first comprehensive look at the crisis, the WHO cautioned against the “alarming rise” of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, saying that without 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 become deadly once again.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued similar warnings, with CDC head Tom Frieden saying in 2014 that antimicrobial resistance, which costs lives as well as tens of billions in healthcares costs, “is a big problem and it’s getting worse.”
The WHO’s new report, “Worldwide country situation analysis: Response to antimicrobial resistance,” surveyed 133 countries in 2013 and 2014, asking governments about their efforts to combat drug resistance, which builds as medicines are used improperly—whether in the wrong dosages or for the wrong length of time—or to treat the wrong illness. Only 34 countries responded that they had a comprehensive plan to monitor and control how antibiotics are used.
The survey results suggested that sales of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs without prescription remain widespread, “with many countries lacking standard treatment guidelines, increasing the potential for overuse of antimicrobial medicines by the public and medical professionals,” according to a WHO press release.