Frequently asked questions on antimicrobial resistance
Q: Which specific diseases are most affected?
A: The bacterial infections which contribute most to human disease are also those in which emerging resistance is of most concern: diarrhoeal diseases such as dysentery, respiratory tract infections, including multi-resistant tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, and hospital-acquired infections. Among the other major infectious diseases, the development of resistance to drugs commonly used to treat malaria is of particular concern, as is the emerging resistance to anti-HIV drugs.
Q: Why are hospital-acquired infections so dangerous?
A: Hospitals are a critical component of the antimicrobial resistance problem worldwide. The combination of highly susceptible patients, intensive and prolonged antimicrobial use, and cross-infection has resulted in socalled “nosocomial infections” with highly resistant bacteria. These infections are expensive to control and extremely difficult to eradicate. Hospitals are also the eventual site of treatment for many patients with severe infections due to resistant pathogens acquired in the community. In the wake of the AIDS epidemic, the prevalence of such infections can be expected to increase.
Q: Does the use of growth promoters and other drugs in food-producing animals contribute to the problem?
A: Yes. The enhanced food requirements of an expanding world population have led to the widespread routine use of antimicrobials as growth promoters or preventive agents in food-producing animals and poultry flocks. In North America and Europe, an estimated 50% in tonnage of all antimicrobial production is used in food-producing animals and poultry flocks. Such practices have contributed to the rise in resistant microbes, which can be transmitted from animals to humans; for example salmonellosis.
Q: What can be done?
A: A global problem of this magnitude and potentially devastating consequences requires a global solution, with urgent action across all nations and all sectors concerned. WHO has taken a leadership role in alerting the international community to the severity of the problem and defining the specific actions that need to be taken.
In September 2001, WHO launched the first global strategy aimed at containing the emergence and spread of resistance. Known as the WHO Global Strategy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance, the strategy recommends a large number of interventions that can be used to slow the emergence and reduce the spread of resistance in a diverse range of settings.
Q . Who needs to take action?
A . Those called upon to be alert to the problem and take appropriate action include consumers, prescribers and dispensers, veterinarians, and managers of hospitals and diagnostic laboratories as well as national governments, the pharmaceutical industry, professional societies, and international agencies.
In advocating widespread adoption of this strategy, WHO aims to encourage the urgent actions needed to reverse or at least curtail trends which have major economic as well as health implications. Moreover, in view of the global nature of the antimicrobial resistance problem, the efforts of any nation to implement the WHO Global Strategy are likely to be felt worldwide.