Drug resistance is becoming more severe and many infections are no longer easily cured, leading to prolonged and expensive treatment and greater risk of death, warns the World Health Organization (WHO) on World Health Day.
Under the theme Combat Drug Resistance, WHO calls for urgent and concerted action by governments, health professionals, industry and civil society and patients to slow down the spread of drug resistance, limit its impact today and preserve medical advances for future generations.
“The message on this World Health Day is loud and clear. The world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures,” said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “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.”
Today, WHO is publishing a policy package that sets out the measures governments and their national partners need to combat drug resistance. The policy steps recommended by WHO include: develop and implement a comprehensive, financed national plan; strengthen surveillance and laboratory capacity; ensure uninterrupted access to essential medicines of assured quality; regulate and promote rational use of medicines; enhance infection prevention and control and foster innovation and research and development for new tools.
The discovery and use of antimicrobial drugs to treat diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea and syphilis changed the course of medical – and human - history. Now, those discoveries and the generations of drugs that followed them are at risk, as high levels of drug resistance threaten their effectiveness.
Drug resistance is a natural biological phenomenon, through which micro-organisms acquire resistance to the drugs meant to kill them. With each new generation, the micro-organism carrying the resistant gene becomes ever more dominant until the drug is completely ineffective. Inappropriate use of infection- fighting drugs – under use, overuse or misuse - causes resistance to emerge faster.
Last year, at least 440,000 new cases of multi-drug resistant-tuberculosis were detected and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis has been reported in 69 countries to date . The malaria parasite is acquiring resistance to even the latest generation of medicines, and resistant strains causing gonorrhoea and shigella are limiting treatment options. Serious infections acquired in hospitals can become fatal because they are so difficult to treat and drug-resistant strains of micro organism are spread from one geographical location to another in today's interconnected and globalized world. Resistance is also emerging to the antiretroviral medicines used to treat people living with HIV.
“On this World Health Day, WHO is issuing a policy package to get everyone, especially governments and their drug regulatory systems, on the right track, with the right measures, quickly,” said Dr Chan. “The trends are clear and ominous. No action today means no cure tomorrow. At a time of multiple calamities in the world, we cannot allow the loss of essential medicines – essential cures for many millions of people – to become the next global crisis.”