Superbugs that resist treatment by antibiotics are a serious and rising threat worldwide, according to a new report by the World Health Organization. In more than half of all infected patients, drugs called carbapenem antibiotics failed to eradicate K. pneumoniae, a bacteria that causes pneumonia and bloodstream infections, among others. These drugs are the last resort against a bacteria that often infects patients in hospitals. In certain countries, more than half of those suffering from urinary tract infections caused by E. coli do not respond to the antibiotics that have treated it since the 1980s. The failure of last-ditch treatments for gonorrhea has been documented in Canada, Australia, Japan, and several Scandinavian countries.The WHO recommends certain basic policy fixes, calling for more access to clean water and vaccinations and instructing physicians to dole out antibiotics only as needed. The organization also calls on policymakers to promote research and innovation and to step up disease-tracking procedures.These are sensible preliminary measures, and should be a top priority worldwide, as the crisis is serious and escalating. The BBC quotes a physician who is on the front lines of this fight:
Dr Jennifer Cohn, medical director of Medecins sans Frontiers’ Access Campaign, said: “We see horrendous rates of antibiotic resistance wherever we look in our field operations, including children admitted to nutritional centers in Niger, and people in our surgical and trauma units in Syria.“Ultimately, WHO’s report should be a wake-up call to governments to introduce incentives for industry to develop new, affordable antibiotics that do not rely patents and high prices and are adapted to the needs of developing countries.”
Today it’s Nigerian nutritional centers and Syrian emergency care, tomorrow it’s your local hospital. Climate activists call upon all of us to “heal the planet,” but if antibiotic resistance keeps increasing, we will soon be unable to heal ourselves.