Why is antibiotic resistance today's greatest health challenge?

This issue threatens our ability to defend ourselves against the bacteria we thought we had overcome

Why is antibiotic resistance today's greatest health challenge?

Health in the 21st century faces a fundamental challenge, a direct result of the indiscriminate use we have given to new technologies and the lack of clear information about the risks involved in continuing to make the same decisions. The antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance threatens our ability to defend ourselves against the bacteria we thought we had overcome.

Antibiotic resistance

The indiscriminate use of antibiotics is one of the biggest battles that the World Health Organization (WHO) is facing in recent years worldwide. Antibiotic resistance occurs when the ability to generate resistance to bacteria is lost, even in the therapeutic presence of antibiotics.

The history of antibiotics is a story from less than a century ago. Advances in medicine since last year have led to major changes in health worldwide, however they are not part of a long history. The invention of antibiotics is associated with the development of Alexander Fleming's penicillin in 1928, although some advances had been made in previous years. Nowadays, antibiotics are fundamental for the treatment of different illnesses caused by bacteria but it has reached a point where doctors must prescribe a second or third line of treatment, because the bacteria resist the medication.

In societies such as the Latin American, where the common flu is treated with antibiotic medications, the risk of generating a collective resistance to treatment increases. However, this is not a problem that concerns only Latin America. According to the first official WHO report on antibacterial resistance in 2014, countries such as Austria, Japan, France, and Sweden, among others, have confirmed the failure of three treatment lines for cephalosporins for gonorrhea.

In recent years, WHO has recognized antibiotic resistance as one of the most important current threats to global health and food security. Even when the process happens naturally, it is accelerated by the wrong use of antibiotics in humans and animals, and the effectiveness of these in the treatment of diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhea has diminished. Antibiotic resistance puts at risk the advances of modern medicine and increases the costs associated with the treatment of bacterial diseases.

The Global Action Plan

In May 2015, the 68th WHO Global Health Assembly declared the Global Plan of Action to address antimicrobial resistance and in particular antibiotic resistance. This commitment of the WHO was based on the fact that this issue occurs worldwide and compromises our ability to deal with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Due to the dangers represented by this issue, WHO has decided to join the FAO and the OIE in recent years in a tripartite initiative characterized by the development of National Plans of Action and joint strategies of technical assistance, monitoring and strengthening in the different countries. According to figures from FAO, by 2050, ten million people will die annually from complications related to antimicrobial resistance, if no action is taken against it. Under the concept of "One Health", the three organizations have developed since 2016, guides of support to governments, producers, traders, and actors to promote the responsible use of antimicrobials in agriculture and livestock.

The role of Research and Development

One of the most immediate solutions sought by the industry and part of international organizations is the development of a new generation of antibiotic drugs that can cope with the bacterial resistance of recent years. Organizations such as the Wellcome Trust and GARPD advocate internationally for the promotion of R&D for the development of new treatments, however the results have not yet allowed to solve the current threat represented by the resistance.

Another type of initiative has tried to develop better diagnostic tools, one of the international weak points when it comes to recognizing resistant microbes and bacteria.


Latin American Post | Laura Delgado
Copy edited by Laura Rocha Rueda

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