The World Health Organisation has a new strategy for fighting drug-resistant diseases like MRSA and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which cost lives and strain healthcare systems around the world.
A multitude of fungi, viruses, parasites and bacteria can infect the human body, and we rely on drugs to fight them off — but no drug is 100 per cent effective, and some microbes always survive. The microbes that survive each round of treatment are typically stronger and hardier, or somehow equipped to resist the drug. When those survivors reproduce, they pass that resistance on to the next generation of microbes. In response, researchers develop new and more effective drugs, or switch between treatment regimens in hopes of outflanking microbial evolution.
It's an arms race, and we're not winning.
In 2012, WHO reported the first signs that the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, was evolving resistance to the anti-retroviral drugs used to treat it. Countering that resistance could require more expensive drugs, which puts a strain on patients and the healthcare system as a whole. The bacteria that causes tuberculosis has also evolved to resist many drugs, and in 2013, WHO reported 480,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant TB around the world. Doctors are also seeing increasing rates of antibiotic resistance among the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections, bacterial pneumonia, and MRSA - a drug-resistant bacterial infection that most often turns up in hospital settings.
The World Health Assembly, the body of 194 states that sets policy for the World Health Organisation, just set five new objectives for fighting antimicrobial resistance.
At its annual meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, this week, member states voted to support a resolution calling for improved awareness and understanding of the problem, stronger surveillance and research programs to keep tabs on diseases evolving drug resistance, actions to reduce infection rates, better optimised use of microbial drugs to help prevent the development of resistance, and sustainable investment in fighting drug resistance. By voting to support the resolution, each state committed to having a national plan of action in place by 2017, in line with the five objectives but designed to suit each country's priorities and its cultural, social, economic and political situation.
In the US, the CDC already has a four-part plan in place, focused on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance is the highest-profile type of antimicrobial resistance in the US, and WHO also called it the most urgent type of antimicrobial resistance.