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WHO: Urgent Action Needed to Stop Drug Resistance

WHO: Urgent Action Needed to Stop Drug Resistance

The World Health Organization warns hundreds of thousands of people are dying every year because of growing drug resistance to life-threatening diseases. To mark World Health Day, April 7, the U.N. agency is calling for urgent action to slow down the spread of drug resistance.

Before Alexander Fleming invented penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, in 1928, countless numbers of people died of simple wounds and infections. For instance 18 percent of American soldiers died of pneumonia in World War I. But in WWII, after the discovery of penicillin, only one percent died of the disease.

The World Health Organization warns the world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures. WHO Stop TB Department director Mario Raviglione calls drug resistance a global threat.

“It kills hundreds of thousands of people every year," said Raviglione. "Number two, it challenges greatly care and control of infectious diseases that in the past were curable. For some of them, we are in the ... pre-antibiotic era. We are back to the 1930s or 40s.”

The discovery and use of antimicrobial drugs to treat diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and syphilis changed the course of medical and human history. But now their effectiveness is under threat, because of the under-use, overuse or misuse of drugs, which causes resistance to grow.

The treatment of tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, pneumonia, and other killer infectious diseases is at risk as drug resistance rises. WHO Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda says the evolution and spread of drug resistance is of great concern.

“The bottom line is that the problem is outpacing the solutions," Fukuda. "That is what we are seeing right now. Some of the issues are very clear I think. The first one is that there is no single silver bullet solution to address this kind of threat. There is no single action, which is going to take care of the problem. There is no single action, which can reduce the issue. As long as people rely upon antibiotics and anti-microbial medicines, their use is going to foster the development of resistance.”

The World Health Organization has a six-point action plan to safeguard drug treatments. It urges a strengthening of surveillance and monitoring systems to detect the emergence of drug-resistance. It recommends the rational use of medicines, measures to prevent and control the transmission of infections and the research and development of new vaccines and medicines to treat infectious diseases.