According to a new study published online in Lancet Infectious Diseases, antibiotic use has jumped 36 per cent worldwide over a decade, much of it unwarranted. The study provides the most comprehensive long-term view of antibiotic use in 71 nations from 2000 to 2010. Emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—accounted for over three-quarters of the rise in antibiotic use and researchers suggest the rise in consumption couldn’t be explained by population changes alone and seemed to parallel economic development.
The increase heightens concerns that overuse of antibiotics is leaving more of the world’s population vulnerable to drug-resistant bacteria. Adding to the pressure is our increased reliance on antibiotic “cover” for so many high-technology interventions. Antibiotics are becoming an unavoidable medical tool in surgery, heart interventions and chemotherapy for cancer. As resistance grows, so much of what we take for granted will have to stop because the intervention will become too risky. The WHO has rung alarm bells about the threat which caused 25,000 deaths in Europe last year. The number of deaths in the US is probably of a similar order. This is the large, invisible part of an iceberg that we currently only see as deaths directly from antibiotic resistance.
Opinions on how to meet the challenge vary but there is near unanimity that antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to our way of life. Unless fixed quickly, we face a time-travel back to the 1930s and earlier, when once-trivial infections will suddenly become serious threats to health and life, and modern medical treatments too dangerous to contemplate. Serious interventions through research, awareness campaigns and intervention of the professional bodies representing the medical fraternity are required to fix the problem. The sooner we realise it and go to work in it, the better.