Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why Urgent Action is Needed to Safeguard Drug Treatments for Future Generations

Dr Mario Raviglione is Director of the WHO Stop TB Department. He is leading preparations for World Health Day 2011.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is marking World Health Day – April 7 - this year with a call to Combat Drug Resistance and protect vital antimicrobial drugs the effectiveness of which is increasingly under threat. We believe that concerted action under the stewardship of governments, and engaging health professionals such as prescribers and pharmacists. Civil society and the pharmaceutical industry is needed to slow down the impact of drug resistance and preserve medical advances for future generations.
Every year, WHO uses the anniversary of its founding to draw the world’s attention to an urgent health problem. Clearly, drug resistance fits the definition. It’s not a new problem, but it still needs urgent action across the health sector and beyond it.
In her message to governments around the world, the WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, spelled out the problem: "The message on this World Health Day is loud and clear. The world is on the brink of losing these miracle cures." 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.
On Thursday, WHO will publish a policy package that spells out the measures governments and their national partners need to take to safeguard these vital medicines.
We know that the discovery and use of antimicrobial drugs to treat diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis, malaria, gonorrhea, syphilis, pneumonias and other killer diseases has changed the course of our history as a species. We must act now to prevent those discoveries from being put at risk.
Tuberculosis, malaria and HIV all face severe constraints due to rising levels of resistance, and resistant strains of gonorrhea and shigella are limiting treatment options. Serious infections acquired in hospitals are now often fatal because they are so difficult to treat and drug-resistant strains of microorganism are spread overnight from one geographical location to another in today's interconnected and globalized world. Resistance is also emerging to the antiretroviral medicines used to treat people living with HIV.
Over the last decade, WHO has established many initiatives to understand and address drug resistance - particularly in relation to some of the world's most deadly infectious diseases. Those measures must now be further strengthened and implemented. New collaborations, led by governments working alongside civil society, health professionals and the private sector are essential if we are to halt the public health threat of drug resistance.
APUA has been a leader in promoting rational use of drugs and prevention and containment of antimicrobial resistance for many years. WHO looks forward to an intensified collaboration with APUA and all its chapters.