Antibiotic resistance – a societal problem

The threat from antibiotic resistance should be treated as seriously as the threat from terrorism and climate change, said the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies this week.

Dame Sally’s comments were supported by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), which provided its own data to show how rapidly the problem is growing. In 2003, the HPA measure 3 anti-biotic resistant strains of bacteria; in 2012 it measured 800.

In her annual report, Dame Sally said that the health care system in the UK could be put back 200 years as increased antibiotic resistance poses a catastrophic risk to our health.

Professor Anthony Kessel, the HPA’s Director of Public Health Strategy and Medical Director said,

 “This is not a clinical issue but a societal one and we must change our attitude towards antibiotics”.

Governments, pharmaceutical companies, farmers, vets, clinicians and the general public all need to help address this crisis.

There has been a “market failure” and what Dame Sally calls a “discovery void” in the development  of new drugs (see the article in The Independent this week). Pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to develop expensive new compounds with a potentially limited life span. Governments need to intervene in the private sector to ensure the drugs we need as a society are developed.

Routine antibiotic use amongst farmed animals and fish is also rising. Alternative drugs are needed to keep livestock healthy, or  alternative farming methods. These changes will all cost money and will need the support of society and politicians to implement.

Antibiotic resistance is not a British problem, but a global one and a very expensive one too. According to the World Health Organisation (and the Guardian newspaper), antibiotic resistant infections costs the EU €1.5 billion and the US $30 billion each year.

The EU has an antibiotic awareness day every year in November – something I’m sorry to say I have not heard of. Perhaps making this day more “visible” would be a good start, particularly in those EU countries where antibiotics are readily available over the counter.

Image courtesy of hinnamsaisuy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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