A New Global Threat

The world is facing a severe global threat--surprisingly, from something that was meant to save us in the first place.

For decades, we depended on antibiotics to protect us from bacterial infections. But years of misuse and overuse has led to bacteria evolving to build a resistance to these drugs. This means something as common as a urinary tract infection, which can be easily managed by administering antibiotics, could one day be untreatable.

Last year, the issue of antibiotic resistance was already categorized to be on par with Ebola and HIV in terms of severity. This year, experts believe that we will reach a tipping point, especially given the prevalence of antibiotic use in farming to assist livestock growth.

Take colistin, for example. This particular drug has been used more often in animals than humans. But in 2015, resistance to colistin developed and spread around the world.

Image Credit: FAO/ Giulo Napolitano

Addressing the Issue

The role that the livestock industry plays in promoting drug resistance is crucial to addressing the issue.

“In 2012, the World Health Organization called colistin critically important for human health, meaning its use in animals should be limited to avoid promoting resistance. Yet in 2013, the European Medicines Agency reported that polymyxins were the fifth most heavily used type of antibiotic in European livestock,” reports  Debora MacKenzie for New Scientist.

Right now, there are no regulations in place that will ensure antibiotics are being used to fight infections; and specific measures, including banning antibiotic use to promote livestock growth to avoid resistance is needed.

The United Nations (UN) however, has demonstrated a concerted effort to address this crisis. A recently held general assembly has elevated antibiotic resistance to crisis level. This is the fourth time in history that a health issue has been regarded with such severity, with Ban Ki-moon pointing out that it is a “fundamental, long-term threat to human health, sustainable food production and development.”

This move underscores the urgent need to recognize antibiotic resistance as an actual, global threat. More importantly, demonstrating this level of global commitment could spur faster and more concrete steps towards enforcement of policies and research that will combat resistance.

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