The world is doing far too little to combat the misuse of antibiotics, the World Health Organization says.
The UN health agency says the problem is fuelling drug resistance and allowing long-treatable diseases to become killers.
In its first ever analysis of how countries are responding to the problem of antimicrobial resistance – when bugs become immune to existing drugs – WHO revealed on Wednesday ‘major gaps’ in all six regions of the world.
‘This is the single greatest challenge in infectious diseases today,’ the organisation’s assistant director general for health security, Keiji Fukuda.
‘All types of microbes, including many viruses and parasites, are becoming resistant to medicines.’
He warned of bacteria that are ‘progressively less treatable’ by available antibiotics.
‘This is happening in all parts of the world, so all countries must do their part to tackle this global threat,’ Mr Fukuda said.
A year ago, WHO issued a hard-hitting study on the phenomenon, cautioning that without significant action the world would be headed for ‘a post-antibiotic era’.
In such an era, common infections and minor injuries that have been treatable for decades may once again kill, said WHO coordinator on antimicrobial resistance, Charles Penn.
‘We will lose the ability to treat a range of serious conditions such as blood stream infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria and HIV, and the benefits of advanced medical treatment, such as cancer chemotherapy and major surgery will also become much riskier and may well be lost,’ he warned.
The UN agency has since conducted a survey of 133 countries asking governments to assess their response to resistance to antimicrobial medicines.
Sixty WHO member states did not take part in the survey, including the United States and China.
Wednesday’s report shows the global response is dangerously lacking.
Only a quarter of countries that answered the survey had comprehensive national plans in place to fight resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines.
Counterfeit and low-quality drugs have also been reported in many regions – a problem because such medicines often do not contain the right amount of the active ingredient, ‘resulting in sub-optimal dosing’, the report said.
This was of particular concern in the African region.
Many countries also lack standard treatment guidelines, raising the possibility of overuse, it warned.
Monitoring of the use of such drugs was also ‘infrequent’ in most regions, although European countries had made progress in this area, WHO said.