At the beginning of the 21st century, there are numerous scenarios that threaten the survival of the human race on the planet. The range of possibilities is so extensive that it manages to comprise versions from very many different fields, from nuclear war and artificial intelligence rising up and dominating human kind, to extreme global warming and asteroids hitting the Earth. Now WHO is talking about a “post-antibiotic” era, in which super-bacteria and super-parasites that will become resistant to all antibiotics available will go rampant across the planet.
The World Health Organization has organized a survey so as to assess the national plans available worldwide that are used to preserve antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicine. Based on this survey, a report entitled “Worldwide country situation analysis: Response to antimicrobial resistance” was conducted.
Its findings point out that there are certain countries that take this matter very seriously and that are putting a lot of work into keeping it at hand. But unfortunately, about 75% of all the countries that have responded to the survey do not in fact possess such plans.
The organization highlights the dire need for implementing strong strategies to combat resistance to antibiotics in all 6 WHO regions. “This is the single greatest challenge in infectious diseases today,” clearly states Dr. Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director General for Health Security at WHO.
The main reasons behind the resistance to antimicrobial medicine are the overuse of antibiotics, the incorrect use of antibiotics and the evolution of microorganisms like bacteria, parasites and viruses.
The overuse of antibiotics is a phenomenon in itself that is broadly spread across the planet. Since acquiring antibiotics without a prescription is still widely available, people show a general tendency to overuse these products. Only the popular misconception that antibiotics are able to treat simple viral infections has lead to gargantuan amounts of the medicine to be taken without any cause for it.
But it is not only patients who believe that antibiotics can cure everything; doctors as well have been shown to abuse the products, mainly in the past though, since there was a consistent movement in the medical field to make all medical practitioners aware of the consequences involved.
Then comes the incorrect use of antibiotics, that is closely related to this overuse. Two very common mistakes are constantly being made by patients. The first one is that they usually take the medicine until the symptoms disappear and then stop the treatment all-together, with the intention of not overusing the drugs. This actually contributes to the resistance of the microbes, because at the point where symptoms disappear, not all the microbes have been killed by the antibiotics.
And the ones remaining actually become stronger, being able to resist to a certain extent when faced with the same antibiotic the next time. This means that in the future, the same patient will require either a higher dose of the same antibiotic or a stronger antibiotic all together.
The second common mistake done by patients is taking dosages lower than those required. This usually happens when patients self-medicate. This also creates antibiotic resistance, because again, the microbe will adapt. And what does not kill it, makes it stronger. These two common mistakes ironically represent the most frequent ways in which people cope with overusing antibiotics.
As for the evolution of microbes, ranging from viruses and parasites to small deadly bacteria, this is ultimately a natural process undergone by all living things. These small creatures are adapting to their newly found environment, but unfortunately, they are doing so much faster than us humans are able to discover new antimicrobial medicine.
It is on these three basic concepts that a national plan to control antibiotic resistance is based on. It is comprised of laws that regulate the traffic of antibiotics, so as to stop both the overuse and incorrect use of the products. Additionally, it supports research that is crucial to combating these evolved forms of microbes.
The report found that only 34 of the 133 countries that were part of the survey have comprehensive plans that regulate this problem. This is quite a low number when compared to the grave nature of the situation. Moreover, it pointed out that monitoring the cases of resistance, that is so necessary in order to have sufficient data to study the patterns of resistance and identify outbreaks, is done only sporadically, due to weak infrastructure and data management.
Another important issue that the report highlighted is the fact that overall, public awareness of the matter is very low. It emphasized on the necessity of implementing campaigns that will teach the general population the basic principles of how to take antibiotics, but more importantly when not to take them.
Another type of program that the WHO report marked as necessary is one that could help prevent hospital-acquired infections and that would help control them when they come up, since the odds of an outbreak are much higher in hospitals if the situation is not properly managed.
Also, the report revealed that existing laws reading the sales and use of antibiotics are too week and that they must be changed as soon as possible.
“Scientists, medical practitioners and other authorities including WHO have been sounding the warning of the potentially catastrophic impact of ignoring antibiotic resistance. Today, we welcome what has been achieved so far, but much more needs to be done to avoid losing the ability to practise medicine and treat both common and serious illnesses.”, said Dr. Fukuda.
Based on this report, WHO member countries have drafted a Global Action Plan in order to fight antimicrobial resistance. This plan has been submitted to the sixty-eighth World Health Assembly that is set to take place in May. There, governments will discuss and hopefully approve this plan. Then, sustained action can be implemented in the countries that are not drawing enough importance to this issue, starting with national plans where there are none.
The fact that the WHO is talking about a “post-antibiotic” era is something that should be worrying people far and wide, because it represents one of the most serious threats that the future brings. And this is one that we simply must be ready for.
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