Misuse and overuse of antibiotics have led to many strains of bacteria that cause illnesses becoming resistant to antibiotics. We may be losing our cures in our battle against the resistant superbugs.
Infections which were easily managed before may once again become untreatable and uncontrollable. The superbugs are killing millions of people around the globe.
WHAT ARE ANTIBIOTICS
Antibiotics are powerful medicines used to kill or decrease the growth of bacteria.
Since their introduction after World War II, doctors and society have become excessively reliant on them to treat everything. Antibiotics are also widely used for preterm babies and before and after surgeries, cancer treatments and organ transplants.
When used correctly antibiotics save lives. They have saved millions of lives since they were first introduced in the 1940s and 1950s.
Unfortunately, because they have been overused and misused, many antibiotics today no longer work. When bacteria become resistant and stronger, new antibiotics are needed.
But new antibiotics are expensive and take time to develop. In the meantime “antibiotic resistance is growing and we are fast running out of treatment options”, Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s assistant director-general for health systems and innovation warned in a recent report.
Bacteria develop resistance to drugs quickly. The Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) evolved just 2 years after methicillin hit the market in 1960.
We use ever more antibiotics — prescriptions for ourselves or in agriculture and in livestock animals as a growth promoter. And about 70% of the world’s antibiotics is used for animals.
Globally, over 2 million people are infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria.
In low and middle-income countries, resistance is already high: In Indonesia, Brazil and Russia up to 60% of bacterial infections are already resistant to at least one antibiotic.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it “one of the world’s most pressing public health problems”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to human health today. “New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases,” says WHO.
It has warned that we’re “heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and [will] once again kill unabated”.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has also recently warned of an impending “post-antibiotic apocalypse”. “If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics. And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection,” she says.
WHO’S AT RISK?
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which advises the WHO on public health initiatives, warned in November 2018 that high resistance rates in healthcare systems “will create the conditions for an enormous death toll that will be mainly borne by newborns, very young children and the elderly”.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health says: People most at risk of illness due to resistant bacteria are those with lowered immunity such as: hospital patients who are elderly or very sick; hospital patients who have an open wound (like a bedsore) or a tube going into their body (like a urinary catheter); and people undergoing treatment for cancer.