WHO raises alarm on threat of antibiotic resistance

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - A new report of the World Health Organization (WHO) released yesterday showed that antibiotic resistance is now a serious threat to people’s health worldwide.

The report entitled “Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance,” revealed that antimicrobial resistance is occurring across many different infectious agents and in all regions in the world.

Describing the document as the first such report to look at antibiotic resistance globally, WHO said the serious threat is no longer a worry for the future: it is happening now in every region of the world.

WHO noted that antibiotic resistance – or when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work to treat infections – is now a major threat to public health, with the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the main threats to human health globally,” cautioned WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Shin Young-soo.

“The extensive and inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans and animals is common in some countries of the Western Pacific region. The misuse of antibiotics becomes a greater threat when combined with the forces of globalization,” he added.

Shin said that global trade, travel, migration and medical tourism can spread resistant pathogens into every corner of the world in a matter of days.

The report focuses on antibiotic resistance in nine different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infection (sepsis), diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infection and gonorrhoea.

The results are cause for concern, documenting resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics, in all regions of the world.

Among the key findings of the reports are that “resistance to the treatment of last resort for life-threatening infections caused by a common intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae – carbapenem antibiotics – has spread to all regions of the world.”

K. pneumoniae is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborn infants and intensive-care unit patients.

The report also showed that resistance to one of the most used antibiotics for the treatment of urinary tract infection caused by E. coli – fluoroquinolones – is widespread.

“In the 1980s, when these drugs were introduced, resistance was virtually zero: today, this treatment is ineffective in more than half of patients in many countries,” the report stated.

It was also found that in Western Pacific, “failure in the last resort treatment for gonorrhoea – third generation cephalosporins – has been confirmed in Australia and Japan.”

Globally, it has been confirmed in Austria, Canada, France, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. More than a million people are infected with gonorrhoea around the world every day.

The report also showed that “antibiotic resistance causes people to be sick for longer and increases the risk of death.”

According to WHO, collaboration on tracking of antibiotic resistance between countries in the WHO Western Pacific region was established in the 1980s, but suffered setbacks following a series of emergencies in the early 2000s.

However, many countries in the region have long-established national systems for tracking resistance.

WHO is calling attention to the need to develop new diagnostics, antibiotics and other tools to allow healthcare professionals to stay ahead of emerging resistance.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by 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,” said Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security.

Fukuda noted that effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier and benefit more from modern medicine.

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