GENEVA, Switzerland—As the World Health Organization (WHO)marked April 6 as World Health Day, the United Nations agency charged withdirecting and coordinating authority on health matters called for "urgent andconcerted action" by governments, industry and society to slow down the spreadof drug resistance.
Drug resistance, the WHO said, is becoming more severe andmany infections are no longer easily cured, leading to prolonged and expensivetreatment and greater risk of death. The discovery and use of antimicrobialdrugs to treat diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and syphilischanged the course of medical and human history, but now, those discoveries andthe generations of drugs that followed them are at risk, as high levels of drugresistance threaten their effectiveness, according to the WHO.
The agency said that last year alone, at least 440,000 newcases of multidrug resistant-tuberculosis were detected, and drug-resistanttuberculosis has been reported in 69 countries to date. The malaria parasite isacquiring resistance to even the latest generation of medicines, and resistantstrains causing gonorrhea and shigella are limiting treatment options. Seriousinfections acquired in hospitals can become fatal because they are so difficultto treat and drug-resistant strains of microorganism are spread from onegeographical location to another in today's interconnected and globalizedworld. Resistance is also emerging to the antiretroviral medicines used totreat people living with HIV, according to the WHO.
"The message on this World Health Day is loud and clear. Theworld is on the brink of losing these miracle cures," said WHO Director-GeneralDr. Margaret Chan in a statement. "In the absence of urgent corrective andprotective actions, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, inwhich many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, killunabated."
To prevent these events, the WHO has published a policypackage that sets out the measures governments and their national partners needto combat drug resistance. These policy steps include: developing andimplementing a comprehensive, financed national plan; strengtheningsurveillance and laboratory capacity; ensuring uninterrupted access toessential medicines of assured quality; regulating and promoting rational useof medicines; enhancing infection prevention and control; and fostering innovationand research and development for new tools.
The WHO notes that governments and partners also need towork closely with industry to encourage greater investment in research anddevelopment of new diagnostics that can help improve decision-making, as wellas drugs to replace those that are being lost to resistance. Today, less than 5percent of products in the research and development pipeline are antibioticdrugs, the WHO says.
"WHO has established many initiatives to understand andaddress drug resistance over the last decade, particularly in relation to someof the world's most deadly infectious diseases," stated Dr. Mario Raviglione,director of the WHO's Stop TB Department.
"Those measures must now be further strengthened andimplemented urgently across many diseases and across many sectors. Newcollaborations, led by governments working alongside civil society and healthprofessionals, if accountable, can halt the public health threat of drugresistance."