Drug resistance: treatable diseases have once again turned fatal, says WHO

Data from 114 countries show spread of the major public health threat; global collaboration needed for targeted solutions, says global health agency

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Wednesday 30 April 2014

Antimicrobial resistance 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. The World Health Organization, in a report released Wednesday, says that antimicrobial resistance is now a major threat to public health.

The report provides a comprehensive picture of drug resistance around the world and incorporates data from 114 countries. The report kick-starts WHO's effort to address drug resistance. The organisation hopes to help members develop tools and standards, initiate a global collaboration to track drug resistance, measure health and economic impacts of antibiotic resistance and design targeted solutions.

At the release of the report, Keiji Fukuda, the UN agency's assistant director-general for health security, said:

“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”. Antibiotic resistance causes people to be sick for longer periods and increases the risk of death.

Common infections turn deadly
The report notes that resistance is occurring across many different infectious agents but the report focuses on antibiotic resistance in seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea.

The report reveals that common intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae, is resistant to carbapenem antibiotics across the world. This bacterium is the major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborns and intensive-care unit patients (see table).



People suffering from urinary tract infections caused by E coli are also at risk now as the pathogen is now resistant to fluoroquinolones. Sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhoea is resistant to third generation cephalosporins in Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Back to basics 
The report identifies gaps in the basic systems to track and monitor the problem as the main cause of the spread of antibiotic resistance. The agency suggests that efforts to prevent infections from happening in the first place are important. These include better hygiene, access to clean water, infection control in health-care facilities, and vaccination.


Report: Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance

Research: Transmission dynamics of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in a medical intensive care unit in India

Policy: National policy for containment of antimicrobial resistance India

Report: Situational analysis - Antibiotic use and resistance in India 

Editorial: Drug resistant bacteria and the global economy

Research: Bacterial charity work leads to population-wide resistance

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