UN pledges to battle superbugs - Expert reaction
22 September 2016
At a high-level meeting yesterday, all 193 United Nations member states have pledged to work together to tackle
The disease-causing bacteria, virues, fungi and parasites that have developed resistance to drugs pose a fundamental
threat to human health, development and security, said World Health Organization
Director-General Dr Margaret Chan.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said trends toward
antimicrobial resistant diseases undermined the hard-won achievements of the Millennium Development Goals.
The SMC gathered expert reaction to the announcement, feel free to use these comments in your reporting.
Dr Heather Hendrickson, senior lecturer, Molecular Biosciences, Massey University, comments:
"A recent report suggested that if antibiotic use does not change by 2050 10 million people will die each year of
antibiotic resistant infections. This is why the UN leaders' commitment to act on Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) is of
such crucial importance.
"Global action is required in the case of AMR because there are no borders for these organisms. This was highlighted in
the 2014 WHO report on antibiotic resistance where the globe was split into 6 major regions. In New Zealand, 14.9%
ofStreptococcus pneumoniae found in clinics were already resistant to penicillin and 12.7% of Klebsiella pneumoniae were
resistant to 3rd generation cephalosporins. Every major region, including the Western Pacific contains nations in which
50% ofK. pneumoniae are now resistant to cephalosporins.
"Every use of antibiotics drives additional resistance in the organisms around us. Without unified action eliminating
non-necessary use of these precious drugs, we will lose them and we will not have alternatives. Non-necessary use
includes antibiotics that are taken for viral infections like flu or the cold, agricultural use that keeps animals from
getting sick in less than ideal conditions and antibiotics sprayed on crops. We can all contribute to keeping these uses
to a minimum by being mindful patients and consumers."
The Australian Science Media Centre also gathered these comments.
Michael Gillings, Professor of Molecular Evolution, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, comments:
"Antibiotics were one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th Century. They have saved countless lives, including mine,
and probably yours.
"However, antibiotics are now becoming much less effective as more and more bacteria become resistant. We face a bleak
future, where a simple wound or infection could kill. It is estimated that resistant infections will kill 10 million
people per year by 2050, more than cancer. We need to protect the antibiotics we still have, we need to use alternative
methods for disease control, and we need to develop new antimicrobial compounds.
"These efforts require international cooperation. Like many issues that face humanity, antibiotic resistance is a global
problem that requires global solutions."
Dr Rietie Venter, Senior Lecturer and Head of Microbiology, School of Pharmacy & Medical Sciences, The University of South Australia, comments:
"Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global threat that should be addressed with a global response. The commitment by
Heads of State at the UN general assembly to adopt a broad, coordinated approach is therefore a much-needed and very
timely global incentive.
"Good stewardship is needed; not only in the medical use of antimicrobials, but also in the use of antimicrobials in
animal health, the abundant use of antimicrobials in agriculture and the widespread use of biocides in common household
products as all these practices are hastening the development of AMR. To this extent, the banning of triclosan and 17
other chemicals in soaps by the FDA [in the USA] is an initiative that could be extended and adopted globally.
"We grew up in the golden age of antibiotics. A world without effective antimicrobials – where a simple scratch could
cost you your life and where most modern medical procedures would no longer be possible - is unthinkable. Yet, the
development of new antimicrobials is not pursued by pharmaceutical companies due to the low profit margins. Therefore,
funding to research and develop new antibiotics and to curb the development of resistance have to come from governments.
The UN agreement is testimony to the commitment of nations to address AMR and prevent us from sliding into a
Dr Ramiz Boulos, CEO of Boulos & Cooper Pharmaceuticals, an Adelaide based biotech company developing novel antimicrobials, comments:
"The pledge is an acknowledgement from the world community that antibiotic resistance is a global issue and a
catastrophe that is here now and we need to do everything we can to stop it in its tracks and possibly reverse it.
"The issue is complex, requiring a multi-faceted approach involving governments, the scientific research community, the
pharmaceutical industry, the medical community and, most importantly, the public.
"Governments have a role to play in raising awareness about the issue but also to provide investment vehicles and
incentives to the pharmaceutical industry to develop antibiotics, something we are seeing now in the US and Europe,
which we need to replicate in Australia and elsewhere.
"Scientific research is of utmost importance here and should be encouraged to deliver new treatment options and rapid
diagnostic tools to distinguish between a bacterial infection and a viral infection for example, and if bacteria are
resistant to certain antibiotics. These diagnostic tools should become available in every clinic and become a routine
part of any antibiotic prescription.
"Last but not least, public awareness campaigns to educate the public, for example about the improper use of
antibiotics, are paramount to the success of this commitment. The pledge by the UN member states is a significant step
in the right direction to address an issue that threatens modern medicine as we know it."