The spread of deadly superbugs that evade even the most
powerful antibiotics is no longer a prediction but is
happening right now across the world, United Nations
Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect anyone, of
any age, in any country, the UN's World Health Organisation
(WHO) said in a report. It is now a major threat to public
health and "the implications will be devastating".
"We have a big problem now, and all of the trends indicate
the problem is going to get bigger, said Keiji Fukuda, the
WHO's assistant director-general for health security.
In its first global report on antibiotic resistance, with
data from 114 countries, the WHO said superbugs able to evade
event the hardest-hitting antibiotics - a class of drugs
called carbapenems - have now been found in all regions of
"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," Fukuda said.
Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of
antibiotics, which encourages bacteria to develop new ways of
For gonorrhoea, a dangerous sexually-transmitted disease that
infects more than a million people across the world every
day, antibiotic treatments are failing fast as superbug forms
of the bacteria that causes it outpace them.
At least 10 countries - including Austria, Australia,
Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, South Africa,
Slovenia and Sweden - now report having patients with
gonorrhoea that is totally untreatable.
Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and
brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race
against time to find more as bacterial infections
increasingly evolve into "superbugs" resistant to even the
most powerful last-resort medicines reserved for extreme
One of the best known superbugs, MRSA, is alone estimated to
kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States -
far more than HIV and AIDS - and a similar number in Europe.
DRUGS DON'T WORK
The WHO said in some countries, because of resistance,
carbapenems now do not work in more than half of people with
common hospital-acquired infections caused by a bacteria
called K. pneumoniae, such as pneumonia, blood infections,
and infections in newborn babies and intensive-care patients.
Resistance to one of the most widely used antibiotics for
urinary tract infections caused by E. coli - medicines called
fluoroquinolones - is also very widespread, the WHO said.
In the 1980s, when these drugs were first introduced,
resistance was virtually zero, according to the WHO report.
But now there are countries in many parts of the world where
the drugs are ineffective in more than half of patients.
"Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to
prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe
and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of
these global public health goods and the implications will be
devastating," Fukuda said in a statement.
Laura Piddock, director of the Antibiotic Action campaign
group and a professor of microbiology at Britain's Birmingham
University, said the world needed to respond as it did to the
AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
"Defeating drug resistance will require political will,
commitment from all stakeholders and considerable investment
in research, surveillance and stewardship programmes," she
Jennifer Cohn of the international medical charity Médecins
Sans Frontières agreed with the WHO's assessment and
confirmed the problem had spread to many corners of the
"We see horrendous rates of antibiotic resistance wherever we
look in our field operations," she said.