Meeting at the United Nations, world leaders agreed that we are facing an unprecedented threat from drug-resistant bacteria and agreed to fight it together.

Scanning electron micrograph of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Image credits: NIAID

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that without a doubt a fundamental threat to human development and security.

“It is not that it may happen in the future. It is a very present reality – in all parts of the world, in developing and developed countries; in rural and urban areas; in hospitals; on farms and in communities,” Mr. Ban noted.

He went on to present a few “sobering examples” and figures of what drug-resistant bacteria is already doing:

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  • “More than 200,000 newborn children are estimated to die each year from infections that do not respond to available antibiotics.
  • An epidemic of multidrug-resistant typhoid is now sweeping across parts of Africa, being spread through water.
  • Resistance to HIV/AIDS drugs is on the rise.
  • Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis has been identified in 105 countries.
  • Resistance to antimalarial medicines is an urgent public health concern in the Greater Mekong sub-region.
  • The spread of antibiotic-resistant infections from live farm animals to meat and people has been documented.
  • Furthermore, dangerous new genetic mechanisms for the spread of resistance are emerging and spreading quickly throughout the world.”

The magnitude and nature of this problem make it impossible for any one country to deal with it. It simply must be an international effort – and that’s exactly what was agreed.

Leaders of the world pledged to make a joint effort to fight this threat, and for the first time developed a coordinated plan aimed at the root of the problem. According to the recently-signed document, UN countries have agreed to:

  • develop multisectorial programs and policy initiatives focused on antimicrobial resistance;
  • mobilize and coordinate investment into new therapeutic technologies, surveillance and research;
  • increase awareness of antimicrobial resistance to encourage positive behavior from the general public; and
  • request the establishment of an ad hoc interagency coordination group in consultation with WHO, FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health.

Now arguably, that’s still pretty vague and could be much more detailed, but it’s still a start. Expert organizations, including the WHO, applauded the move and said that it’s high time something like this was agreed to.

“Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development, and security. The commitments made today must now be translated into swift, effective, lifesaving actions across the human, animal and environmental health sectors. We are running out of time,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO.

Recently, the WHO announced that gonorrhea is becoming untreatable, becoming resistant to more and more drugs. I’m really happy something like this is happening, and hopefully we’ll see concrete measures soon.