Medications which have helped increase human lifespan and allowed us to live better, healthier lives, are now succumbing to attacks of super bacteria. The implications could be devastating.
An article published on December 16th in the Scientific American warns that antibiotic resistance threatens to kill 300 million people by 2050. Earlier this year the Daily Mail commented on the WHO’s dramatic announcement that a crisis caused by antibiotic resistance, in other words – antibiotics’ inefficiency to treat common infections, may lead to a crisis that could be worse than AIDS. Antibiotic resistance develops when bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics through genetic mutations and natural selection, which is then passed on to the next generation; or through the exchange of resistant traits with other bacterial species. More we use antibiotics, more bacteria are exposed to ‘selective pressure’ to adapt and thrive in such an environment.
It is estimated that due to the emergence of a mutated bacteria, which have gradually developed the resistance to antibiotics, hundreds of thousands of people die each year, while in some countries as much as one half of the patients do not respond to antibiotic therapy. An increasing number of patients around the world cannot be treated with antibiotics against skin and urinary infections, gonorrhea and tuberculosis.
The threat is real and demands an immediate, well-coordinated action around the world, or people are increasingly going to die from infections caused by minor injuries, like cuts and grazes, or illnesses that have been easily treatable for decades, like the flu.
Experts stress that our habit to nonchalantly use over-the-counter medications, without consulting a physician, can be extremely dangerous. The UN predicts epidemiological scale of non-treatable diseases, or as Dr Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director for health security said, “We should anticipate to see many more deaths.”
What can we do about it?
One should avoid taking antibiotics, unless prescribed by a physician, and complete prescribed therapy, even when feeling better after initial dosages. Doctors, on the other hand, are urged to prescribe antibiotics only when necessary, and only if they are sure those are the right ones to treat that specific illness.
On the long run, policymakers and pharmaceutical industry should work together to find alternative solutions. Some of those include governmental and public co-financing of the research and development of new drugs, and modifications of old drugs, which were in use before the 1980s, an option adopted by the EU through the AIDA project.
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, addressing this issue stated, „If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine.”