Accessibility links

Breaking News

WHO Warns of Drug Resistance Threat - 2001-09-12

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns 50 years of major medical achievements could be lost if global action is not taken to stem the growing threat of drug resistance. WHO has just launched a comprehensive new strategy to contain the spread of drug resistance.

The World Health Organization says drug resistance is spreading fast and a growing number of essential drugs are becoming ineffective.

It says this problem is affecting all sorts of killer diseases such as tuberculosis, meningitis, scarlet fever and pneumonia. It says drugs have become resistant to sexually transmitted infections and to tropical diseases such as malaria.

Rosamund Williams is head of WHO's Anti-Microbial Resistance Program. She says the problem of drug resistance is facing both rich and poor countries and is becoming worse. "We are seeing, I think, a greater opportunity for spread of infections," Dr. williams says. With air "travel, as we all know, we can be anywhere in 24 hours. So, can all the organisms. So can, therefore, any resistance. A greater degree of trade in a global sense. I think we can also highlight the problems of poverty, of over crowding, of lack of sanitation. The increasing problem of infections in the poor populations."

Over the past five years, pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $17 billion on research and development of medicines used to treat infectious diseases. WHO warns much of that investment could be lost unless drug resistance is tackled quickly.

Dr. Williams says the world could be heading for what she calls a "post-antibiotic age," in which many antibiotics do not work effectively. If this happens, she says many medical and surgical advances could be undermined by the risk of incurable infection.

"Since we have had penicillin and all the others, we have been able to do so many more things, hip replacements, all sorts of joint replacements, bone marrow transplants, heart transplants, major surgery, keeping people alive through other illnesses because we are preventing them from getting infected. If antibiotics do not work anymore, we will not be able to do that," she says.

The World Health Organization says overuse of drugs in many developed countries and under-use in poorer nations can lead to drug resistance.

It says the use of antibiotics in food production also contributes to increased drug resistance. It notes 50 percent of all antibiotic production is used in agriculture to treat sick animals and to promote livestock and poultry growth. It warns drug resistant microbes in animals can be transferred to humans. One of the agency's key recommendations is to phase out antibiotics as growth promoters.