Addressing growing resistance to antibiotics? G7 is just the start

8 June 2015

One issue that the participants at the G7 are likely to consider is the need to address the growing challenge of resistance to antibiotics. According to Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer of the UK, many diseases may become untreatable unless action is taken. Just last month the World Health Assembly issued a call for concerted global action.

Investment in research and development requires a global effort

One response is for governments and private companies to increase their investment in research and development of new drugs. Public investment is particularly important because any new products will only be used when existing drugs don’t work, to delay the emergence of resistance. At the same time measures are needed to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics. The UK and other countries have indicated their willingness to support this kind of strategy and invest in research. The meeting of the G7 will provide an opportunity to agree on a concerted approach.

This strategy is unlikely to have a long-term impact unless a wider global agreement can be reached. China, India and several other countries have big pharmaceutical industries with the capacity to manufacture any new products that are developed. Their governments would have to support an agreement to withhold access to new products.

Tackling poverty is crucial for access to necessary antibiotics and to control use 

It will be very difficult to build global support for an effort to control antibiotic use and withhold access to certain drugs, while very many people do not have access to antibiotics when they need them. In many countries, poor people obtain these drugs in unregulated markets. They often take a partial course and the products may be sub-standard. This increases the risk of resistance. This risk is increased because people are exposed to infections through poor sanitation and they are more likely to fall ill because their immunity is compromised by malnutrition and chronic ill health. There are very high levels of anti-microbial resistance amongst this population. Large movements of people and dense transportation networks mean that resistance organisms can move quickly around the world. 

Any serious effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance will need to include measures to address these issues. This will require commitments by governments, the pharmaceutical industry, health workers and the public to major changes in the organisation of the delivery of services and in the attitudes towards the use of antibiotics. 

G7 is just the starting point

The participants at the G7, on their own, cannot reach the kind of agreement needed for an effective global effort. This will have to involve other countries, which produce drugs, and also those which currently face major problems with access to antibiotics and with anti-microbial resistance. However, the G7 can ensure that the commitments they make take into account the need to ensure that access to antibiotics is “just” as well as “effective” and “sustainable”.

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