The world’s nations have finally come together to agree that serious action needs to be taken over the increasingly dangerous threat of antibiotic resistance. This is only the fourth time in the history of the United Nations that the General Assembly has met for a health issue – the other three being for HIV, Ebola, and chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes – underlying the importance of the problem faced.
Scientists have been warning for decades that the overuse of antibiotics around the globe is pushing us closer and closer to a post-antibiotic era, as no new antibiotic has emerged since the 1980s. Predictions that we would see bacteria emerge that were resistant to all known drugs were finally meted out last year, when researchers discovered a strain of bacteria in China containing a gene that gives it resistance to polymyxins, the “last resort” antibiotics used when all others fail. Earlier this year, another resistant strain was discovered in America.
The new declaration will mean countries will commit to three main objectives. The first is to better track the use of antibiotics around the world, covering those given to both humans and animals. The second is to encourage ways to develop new antibiotics, particularly pharmaceutical companies that may be relucatant to do so, and finally, to raise awareness among doctors and the public as to how to prevent further antibiotic resistant bacteria from developing.
"Drug resistant infections do not respect international borders and to tackle this problem, we need all nations to be on board," the Wellcome Trust's Dr Jeremy Farrar said in an emailed statement. "Each and every country must now identify what actions they can take to address drug resistance. And there must be a mechanism to ensure that nations are helped when needed and held accountable."
It has now been announced that all 193 member states of the United Nations will sign a declaration agreeing to step up the fight against antibiotic resistance. In two years, UN groups will have to report back to the UN Secretary-General what exactly is being done to combat the threat, which is estimated to already be killing at least 700,000 people per year. This number, however, is likely to be an underestimate, as there is currently no system in place to record people who have died due to resistant bacteria.
The main driver behind the gathering pace of antibiotic resistance is thought to be a combination of doctors over-prescribing the drugs to patients when they are not needed, and more seriously, the use of antibiotics in farming, where livestock are given vast amounts of the drugs usually used for humans as a preventative measure. Farmers have long been urged to stop this practice, as it is heavily driving the resistance of bacteria that can then infect people. In fact, the first case of completely antibiotic resistant bacteria from China was detected on a pig farm.
Hopefully this new push, backed up by all nations, will mean that the very serious, and very immediate threat will finally be treated with the urgency required.