Featured on Science Speaks by Meredith Mazzotta

In honor of World Health Day 2011 (April 7), the World Health Organization (WHO) released a six-point policy package to combat the spread of antimicrobial resistance, a problem the organization says is not new but is becoming increasingly burdensome, dangerous and costly.

“The world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in a press release. “In the absence of urgent corrective and protective actions, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated.” Chan authored a special statement in honor of World Health Day driving home the message that “no action today means no cure tomorrow.”

The press release calls drug resistance “a natural biological phenomenon” in which the drugs intended to kill an organism over time lose their effectiveness. Underuse, overuse or misuse of infection-fighting drugs exacerbates the emergence of resistance. What is more, “microbes that adapt and survive carry genes for resistance which can be passed on from one person to another and rapidly spread around the world,” Chan said. Approximately 440,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant TB were detected last year – a third of those cases resulting in death – and extensively drug-resistant TB has been reported in 69 countries to date. Resistance to antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV infection is also emerging. Chan called this a “stark warning that must be heeded.”

The WHO’s policy steps, intended for governments and their national partners, include measures to:

The Infectious Diseases Society of America released its own paper today on the subject, entitled “Combating Antimicrobial Resistance: Policy Recommendations to Save Lives,” which describes a comprehensive, multifaceted plan to address the crisis. The paper is set to appear in a special supplement of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.