‘Post-antibiotic apocalypse’ alert as action urged on drug resistance
GLOBAL leaders have been warned of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” if drug resistance is not urgently tackled.
England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said that if antibiotics lose their effectiveness it will spell “the end of modern medicine”.
Without the drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as Caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would become incredibly “risky”, she said.
And transplant medicine would be a “thing of the past”, she added.
“We really are facing, if we don’t take action now, a dreadful postantibiotic apocalypse,” she told the Press Association.
“I don’t want to say to my children that I didn’t do my best to protect them and their children.”
Health experts have previously warned that resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer.
In recent years the UK has led a drive to raise global awareness of the threat posed to modern medicine by antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Around 700,000 people around the world die annually due to drugresistant
including (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.
Raj Aggarwal, a community pharmacist in Cardiff, said: “As a healthcare professional and a father and grandfather this is a real worry to me. It is great to see such powerful rhetoric, however, like climate change, we have failed to take action early enough.
“Pharmacies across Wales dispense the vast majority of antimicrobials and still, despite constant lobbying, infections tuberculosis we do not still have a ‘delayed antibiotic service’ in place, no contractual role in antimicrobial resistance or even any NHS-provided literature to issue to patients when antibiotics are supplied.
“The UK Government have year after year looked to strip funding from the pharmaceutical companies, despite warnings this will only reduce investment in research for new antimicrobials.
“At a time of national crisis governments across the world should be looking at working in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that the correct incentives are in place to find the next generation of antimicrobials.
“This may mean extending patent periods, tax breaks and investment incentives. It’s already very late to take this action but please do not wait for it to become too late. Rhetoric is all fine, but what are they doing to turn rhetoric into reality?”
The comments come as the UK Government and the Wellcome Trust, along with others, have organised a “call to action” meeting for health officials from around the globe.
At the meeting in Berlin, the government will also announce a new project which will map the spread of death and disease caused by drug-resistant “superbugs”.
Dame Sally added: “This AMR is with us now, killing people. 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.”
She added: “Not to be able to effectively treat infections means that Caesarean sections, hip replacements, modern surgery, is risky.
“Modern cancer treatment is risky and transplant medicine becomes a thing of the past.”
Dame Sally warned that if the global community did not act then the progress which had been made in Britain may be “undermined”.
She added: “We use more than I would like and we estimate that about one in three or one in four prescriptions in primary care are probably not needed.
“But other countries use vastly more antibiotics in the community and they need to start doing as we are, which is reducing usage.
“Our latest data shows that we have reduced human consumption by 4.3% in 2014/15 from the year before.”
In September, the World Health Organisation warned that antibiotics are “running out” as a report found a “serious lack” of new drugs in the development pipeline.
The new project which will map the spread of superbugs is a collaboration between the UK Government, Wellcome Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Oxford and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Foreign and International Development Minister Alistair Burt said the project will help to “pinpoint problem areas”.
He said: “The UK is not content to sit back and let this turn into a catastrophe. 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 morethan £615m investment by the UK Government into tackling drugresistant infections since we launched our National Strategy at the end of 2013.”
> The world is running out of effective antibiotics
> Dame Sally Davies