World heading for “devastating” post-antibiotic era

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for urgent action to prevent a massive public health threat caused by resistance to antibiotics.


A report into the real extent of antimicrobial resistance reveals the “devastating” implications of the threat that could affect anyone of any age. Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’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.”

Pneumonia will once again become a deadly disease, gonorrhoea cases will rise, surgery will carry more risks and diarrhoea could become fatal killer, unless action is taken to urgently preserve the effectiveness of current antibiotics and develop new ones. No country is immune to the threat, as drug-resistant bacteria and viruses are spread around the world with ease.

According to the report, seven bacteria responsible for common infections can now pose a threat to life because of antibiotic resistance. For example, Klebsiella pneumoniae bacterium has become drug resistant to the last line of antibiotics. There is also widespread resistance to fluoroquinolones, antibiotics used to treat urinary tract infections caused by E coli.

The report also raises concerns about drug resistant tuberculosis, which is spreading and cannot be treated in some countries due to the cost of the drug combinations needed to treat it. Drug resistant strains of HIV are on the rise, in both Europe and North America. Meanwhile sexually transmitted gonorrhoea is on the increase and is resistant to the last line of antibiotics used to treat it.

Dr Fukuda said: “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.”

The report is the first to gather comprehensive data from the WHO on antibiotic resistance, collating information from 114 countries. Some regions presented more comprehensive data than others, however it is clear that drug resistant strains of bacteria and viruses are common and that trying to preserve the efficacy of current antibiotics is an urgent task.

WHO called on countries to unite to discuss what action to take. Dr Carmen Pessoa Da Silva, team leader on antimicrobial resistance at WHO, said: “It is a problem that belongs to the entire planet. This is important. No single country even with the best possible policies in place can address this issue alone. We need all countries to get together and discuss and put in practice possible solutions.”