The world is running out of antibiotics, global health leaders have warned.
The World Health Organisation said that “antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency”.
Growing resistance to drugs that fight infections could “seriously jeopardise” progress made in modern medicine, the head of WHO said.
The remarks come after a new WHO report found a serious lack of new drugs in development to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.
Health experts have previously warned that resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer.
In recent years, there has been a UK drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then key medical procedures – including gut surgery, Caesarean sections, joint replacements and chemotherapy – could become too dangerous to perform.
Around 700,000 people around the world die annually due to drug-resistant infections including drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria.
If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050
If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050.
The WHO previously drew up a list of antibiotic-resistant infections posing the greatest threat to health.
It has now examined new drugs in the development pipeline.
The new WHO report found few potential treatment options for those antibiotic-resistant infections – including drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) which kills around 250,000 people each year.
There is also a lack of treatment options for gram-negative pathogens, including Acinetobacter and Enterobacteriaceae, such as Klebsiella and E.coli – which can cause deadly infections and pose a particular threat in hospitals and nursing homes, WHO said. Meanwhile, there are very few oral antibiotics for infections caused by gram-negative pathogens in the pipeline, even though such drugs are essential for treating infections outside hospitals.
The authors of the report identified 51 new antibiotics and biologicals in clinical development. But the WHO said that only eight of these are deemed to be innovative treatments that will add value to the current antibiotic treatment arsenal.
Most drugs in development are modifications of existing antibiotics, which are “only short-term solutions”, the authors said.
“The current clinical pipeline is still insufficient to mitigate the threat of antimicrobial resistance,” they added.
The authors called for more investment in basic science, drug discovery and clinical development.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardise progress in modern medicine.
“There is an urgent need for more investment in research and development for antibiotic-resistant infections including TB, otherwise we will be forced back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”
Suzanne Hill, director of the department of essential medicines at WHO, added: “Pharmaceutical companies and researchers must urgently focus on new antibiotics against certain types of extremely serious infections that can kill patients in a matter of days because we have no line of defence.”
WHO said that new treatments alone will not be enough to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance. The health body is working to help improve infection prevention and control and it is also developing guidance for responsible use of antibiotics in the human, animal and agricultural sectors.
Why the WHO has issued a warning
The WHO has issued a stark warning that the world is running out of antibiotics.
What are antimicrobial drugs?
These are the drugs which destroy harmful microbes. Antibiotics are the best known of these drugs but there are others, such as antivirals, antimalarial drugs and antifungals.
What is antimicrobial resistance?
AMR occurs when micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve to resist the drugs that combat the infections that they cause. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread.
How does this happen?
The WHO states that antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes.
But other factors have helped to accelerate the process such as the “misuse and overuse” of antimicrobial drugs.
Other factors include poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling encourage the spread of antimicrobial resistance.
Why is it a problem?
AMR is threatening the ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability, and death. Around 700,000 people around the world die annually due to drug-resistant infections including drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria.
What happens if nothing is done?
Experts have estimated that by 2050, 10 million lives could be lost every year as a result of drug-resistant infections. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then key medical procedures – including gut surgery, Caesarean sections, joint replacements, and chemotherapy – could become too dangerous to perform.
What infections should not be treated with antibiotics?
Viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics. Common infections caused by viruses include: colds, flu, some sore throats, most coughs and bronchitis, many sinus infections and many ear infections.