Antimicrobial Resistance May Result in the End of Modern Medicine

On April 18, 2016, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, OBE, JP, discussed antimicrobial resistance at a United Nations briefing in New York.

On April 18, 2016, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, OBE, JP, discussed antimicrobial resistance at a United Nations briefing in New York.

The Threat of Antimicrobial Resistance

Pathogen resistance is due to the total volume of antibiotics used. Around the world, gonorrhea and tuberculosis are among some of the infections for which treatment is becoming problematic.

According to Dr. Chan, antimicrobial resistance is on the rise in all regions across the globe, making it “one of the greatest threats to health today,” since resistance renders most first-line antibiotics ineffective. As a result, in order to tackle common diseases, providers must turn to “second- and third-choice antibiotics [which] are more costly, more toxic, need much longer durations of treatment, and may require administration in intensive care units.”

Dr. Chan attributed the internationality of the issue to the ease with which the antimicrobial-resistant pathogens travel, not only in people, but in animals and food as well. Surprisingly, in some regions of the world, antibiotics are used more in food than in treatment.

Without a strategy to halt antimicrobial resistance, the simplest infection may result in death and complex medical procedures may become too challenging or even dangerous. Practices such as organ transplantation, joint replacements, cancer chemotherapy, and premature infant care may not be feasible. Dr. Chan warned that a ‘post-antibiotic era’ may result in “the end of modern medicine as we know it.”

Taking Action on Antimicrobial Resistance

The Food and Agriculture Organization, along with the World Organization for Animal Health worked closely with WHO to develop a global action plan to combat antimicrobial resistance worldwide. This plan was sanctioned by all WHO member states at the World Health Assembly of 2015. It was determined that a One Health approach, which would require the involvement of national sectors and actors from across all regions of member states, is the most effective approach to combat the crisis.

Dr. Chan called on political leaders to take a stand by implementing national action plans in support of WHO’s global action plan. She also noted that foreign ambassadors can endorse the consumption of healthy foods, especially with the ever-growing number of consumers who are willing to pay for quality meats that have not been laced with antibiotics. Furthermore, antibiotic monitoring can aid in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Dr. Chan concluded by stating that “antimicrobial resistance, as I say again and again, is a slow-motion tsunami. It is a global crisis that must be managed with the utmost urgency… As the world enters the ambitious new era of sustainable development, we cannot lose the hard-earned gains that your governments and your people achieved so admirably during the MDG [Millennium Development Goals] era.”