Just a quarter of countries around the world have adequate plans in place to combat resistance to antibiotics, a survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) has found.
Of the 133 countries who completed the survey in 2013 and 2014, 34 had national plans to prevent the misuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs. Countries in the WHO European Region were the best prepared, with 40% of the 49 countries that responded having comprehensive plans and strategies to address antimicrobial resistance.
“This is the single greatest challenge in infectious diseases today,” says Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director-general for health security. “Of particularly urgent concern is the development of bacteria that are progressively less treatable by available antibiotics. This is happening in all parts of the world, so all countries must do their part to tackle this global threat.”
The survey was undertaken over a two-year period in all six WHO regions and focused on issues that WHO considers to be prerequisites to combat antimicrobial resistance.
As well as identifying the absence of national plans to combat resistance, the survey found that monitoring was suboptimal. In many countries, poor laboratory capacity, infrastructure and data management were preventing effective surveillance, which can reveal patterns of resistance and identify trends and outbreaks.
Another finding was the widespread availability of antibiotics without prescription and absence of standard treatment guidelines. Public awareness of antimicrobial resistance was low in all regions surveyed, with many people still believing that antibiotics are effective against viral infections – even in countries in which national public awareness campaigns had been conducted.
WHO has developed a draft Global Action Plan to combat antimicrobial resistance that is being submitted for review in May 2015, after which national governments will be asked to approve the plan and pledge to implement it.
Separately, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations has published a new report on antimicrobial resistance calling for a global approach to minimize the growth of resistance. It highlights the scientific challenges associated with the development of new antibiotics and the need for incentives to aid research and development. It notes that there are currently 34 antibacterials in development — 19 molecules and 15 vaccines.