UN General Assembly recognizes antimicrobial resistance as global public health threat

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Declaration flags resistance to antibiotics, including for TB treatment, as “greatest and most urgent global risk”

Emphasizing imperatives to strengthen local health surveillance and service capacities worldwide, for biomedical research and development driven by evidence and needs, and for collaborations between human health, veterinary, and environmentally related disciplines, the member nations of the United Nations General Assembly declared a commitment and the beginning of a strategy Wednesday to protect the effectiveness of existing infection fighting medicines, and promote the development of new ones.

The Political Declaration of the United Nations High-level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance adopted by the body’s General Assembly this week affirms support for strategies outlined in the 2015 World Health Organization Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, and notes the need to ensure sustained funding for the efforts required.

The declaration recognizes the increasing spread of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that have become resistant to the medicines designed to treat them, in combination with decreasing and stalled development of new medicines, as a global public health menace that threatens treatment of illnesses, safer surgeries, childbirth and hospital procedures, and that also threatens future efforts to ensure the right to health is realized by all people in all countries.

The declaration singles out resistance to antibiotics, including those used to treat tuberculosis as the “greatest and most urgent risk,” and calls for increased international and local attention to the threats posed by bacteria that don’t respond to treatment. While the development of antibiotics that began with the 1928 discovery of penicillin is said to have ushered in the age of modern medicine, research and development of new bacteria-fighting medicines plateaued in the 1970s, and slowed to a halt in the early 1970s, with all current antibiotics deriving from ones developed prior to 1984.

The declaration recognizes a divide in the impacts of antimicrobial resistance on prosperous countries as opposed to impacts in low income countries, noting that inadequate access to health services and treatments kills more people in resource-limited countries now than resistance to effective treatments. But it notes that antimicrobial resistance  is a growing threat that if not confronted is projected to cause millions of deaths over the next decades, with impacts spilling across economic and national divisions. The declaration, calling for international cooperation to build surveillance and service capacities in low income countries, comes in a week during which worldwide experts have highlighted challenges in resource-limited countries where medical, technological, sanitation and transportation infrastructure deficits all greatly compromise access to health care.

For more on the background of and responses to threats to infection-fighting medicines, check out the September 2016 IDSA Global Health Policy paper on Global Antimicrobial Resistance.

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