If we don’t act now, the growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs could put an end to modern medicine.
If no steps are taken to reduce an overuse of antibiotics, the world could invite a "post-antibiotic apocalypse".
That’s the warning from England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, whose concern stems from the growth of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Dr Davies is set to launch a national campaign this month urging patients not to demand antibiotics, as part of global efforts to restrict use of the drugs.
If antibiotics lose their effectiveness it will spell "the end of modern medicine", she said.
Without the drugs used to fight bacterial infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would become “risky”... and “transplant medicine becomes a thing of the past”.
Speaking at a conference of global experts in Berlin, she announced plans to closely monitor the spread of death and disease caused by “superbugs”, further international research, and rollout a £2.75m domestic awareness campaign in the United Kingdom.
“We really are facing, if we don’t take action now, a dreadful post-antibiotic apocalypse,” she said. “I don’t want to say to my children that I didn’t do my best to protect them and their children.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says: “Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world.”
Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world.
“New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases. A growing list of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and gonorrhoea – are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat as antibiotics become less effective.”
According to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, 700,000 people die annually from drug-resistant infections around the world, and that could potentially increase to 10 million by 2050 if global leaders don’t act.
“This is a serious issue that is with us now, causing deaths. If it was anything else people would be up in arms about it, but because it is hidden they just let it pass.
“It does not really have a ‘face’ because most people who die of drug-resistant infections, their families just think they died of an uncontrolled infection.
“It will only get worse unless we take strong action everywhere across the globe. We need some real work on the ground to make a difference or we risk the end of modern medicine.”
We need some real work on the ground to make a difference or we risk the end of modern medicine
Mapping the rise of the superbugs
The mapping of superbug death and disease — through a collaboration between the UK Government, Wellcome Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, University of Oxford and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — will help identify the areas they need to target.
“The UK is not content to sit back and let this turn into a catastrophe,” said foreign and international development minister Alistair Burt.
“Part of the problem has been a lack of co-ordination of global efforts and an understanding of where we need to target our future efforts.
“The partnership we are announcing today – part of more than £160m in new research funding in the past year – will help us to pinpoint problem areas.
“This is just one part of our more than £615m investment by the UK Government into tackling drug-resistant infections since we launched our National Strategy at the end of 2013.”
Back in 2013, Dr Davies was calling on governments and organisations, like the WHO and the G8, to take the threat seriously and work to encourage more innovation and investment into the development of antibiotics.
“Over the past two decades there has been a discovery void around antibiotics, meaning diseases have evolved faster than the drugs to treat them,” she said at the time.
Let’s hope this latest call to action sparks more commitment globally, as research from the Wellcome Trust and UN Foundation found that while 151 of 195 countries are developing a plan, only one in five commit to reducing antibiotic use, improving hygiene and preserving antibiotics of last resort.