WHO’s report on antibiotic resistance reveals serious, worldwide threat to public health

- Resistance to antibiotics found in all regions
- New WHO report provides the most comprehensive picture of antibiotic resistance to date

News release

WHO/I. Chernichkin

A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO)—the first such report to look at antibiotic resistance globally—reveals that this serious threat is no longer a worry for the future: it is happening now in every region of the world.

Antibiotic resistance—when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work to treat infections—is now a major threat to public health, with the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the main threats to human health globally,” says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. “The extensive and inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans and animals is common in some countries of the Western Pacific Region. The misuse of antibiotics becomes a greater threat when combined with the forces of globalization. Global trade, travel, migration and medical tourism can spread resistant pathogens into every corner of the world in a matter of days.”

The report, Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance, notes that resistance is occurring across many different infectious agents. The report focuses on antibiotic resistance in nine different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea. The results are cause for high concern, documenting resistance to antibiotics, especially “last resort” antibiotics, in all regions of the world.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Resistance to the treatment of last resort for life-threatening infections caused by a common intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae–carbapenem antibiotics–has spread to all regions of the world. K. pneumoniae is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborn infants and intensive-care unit patients. In some countries, because of resistance, carbapenem antibiotics would not work in more than half of people treated for K. pneumoniae infections.
  • Resistance to one of the most used antibiotics for the treatment of urinary tract infections caused by E. coli–fluoroquinolones–is widespread. In the 1980s, when these drugs were introduced, resistance was virtually zero: today, this treatment is ineffective in more than half of the patients in many countries.
  • In the Region, failure in the last resort treatment for gonorrhoea–third generation cephalosporins–has been confirmed in Australia and Japan. Globally, it has been confirmed in Austria, Canada, France, Norway, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. More than 1 million people are infected with gonorrhoea around the world every day.
  • Antibiotic resistance causes people to be sick for longer and increases the risk of death. For example, people with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are 64% more likely to die than people with a non-resistant form of the infection. Resistance also increases the cost of health care with lengthier stays in hospital and more intensive care.

Collaboration on tracking of antibiotic resistance between countries in the WHO Western Pacific Region was established in the 1980s, but suffered setbacks following a series of emergencies in the early 2000s. However, many countries in the Region have long-established national systems for tracking resistance. Recently, WHO’s Regional Office for the Western Pacific has taken steps to revive regional collaboration.

The report reveals that key tools to tackle antibiotic resistance–such as basic systems to track and monitor the problem–show gaps or do not exist in many countries. Some countries have taken important steps to address the problem. Still, every country and individual needs to do more, including preventing infections from happening in the first place–through better hygiene, access to clean water, infection control in health-care facilities, and vaccination. WHO is also calling attention to the need to develop new diagnostics, antibiotics and other tools to allow health-care professionals to stay ahead of emerging resistance.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security. “Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”

People can help tackle resistance by:

  • Using antiobiotics only when prescribed by a doctor;
  • Completing the full prescription, even after they feel better; and
  • Never sharing antibiotics with others using leftover prescriptions.

Health workers and pharmacists can help tackle resistance by:

  • Enhancing infection prevention and control;
  • Only prescribing and dispensing antibiotics when they are truly needed; and
  • Prescribing and dispensing the right antibiotic(s) to treat the illness.

Policy-makers can help tackle resistance by:

  • Strengthening resistance tracking and laboratory capacity; and
  • Regulating and promoting appropriate use of medicines.

Policy-makers and industry can help tackle resistance by:

  • Fostering innovation and research and development of new tools; and
  • Promoting cooperation and information sharing among all stakeholders.

The report–which also includes information on resistance to medicine for treating other infections such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and influenza–provides the most comprehensive picture of drug resistance to date, incorporating data from 114 countries.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Klara Tisocki
Team Leader, Essential Medicines and Health Technologies
Telephone: +632 528 9026
Email: tisockik@wpro.who.int

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@wpro.who.int

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