10 facts about drug resistance

1. What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance or drug resistance is the ability of a microorganism, like bacteria, viruses and some parasites, to stop an antimicrobial, such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials, from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.

2. Drug resistance is a global problem.

Over the past years, the use and misuse of antimicrobials has increased the number and types of resistant organisms. Consequently, many infectious diseases may one day become uncontrollable. With the growth of global trade and travel, resistant microorganisms can spread promptly to any part of the world.

3. What causes drug resistance?

Drug resistance is a natural evolutionary phenomenon. When microorganisms are exposed to an antimicrobial, the more susceptible organisms succumb, leaving behind those resistant to the antimicrobial. They can then pass on their resistance to their offspring.

4. Inappropriate use of medicines leads to drug resistance.

Inappropriate use of antimicrobials drives the development of drug resistance. Both overuse, under-use and misuse of medicines contribute to the problem. Ensuring that patients are informed about the need to take the right dosage of the right antimicrobial requires action from prescribers, pharmacists and dispensers, pharmaceutical industry, the public and patients, as well as the policy makers.

5. Lack of quality medicines leads to drug resistance.

Most drug quality assurance systems are weak. This can lead to poor quality medicines, exposing patients to sub-optimal concentrations of antimicrobials, thus creating the conditions for drug resistance to develop. In some countries poor access to antimicrobials forces patients to take incomplete courses of treatment or to seek alternatives that could include 
substandard medicines.

6. Animal husbandry is a source of drug resistance.

Sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics are used in animal-rearing for promoting growth or preventing diseases. This can result in resistant microorganisms, which can spread to humans.

7. Poor infection prevention and control amplifies drug resistance.

Poor infection prevention and control can increase the spread of drug-resistant infections. Hospitalised patients are one of the main reservoirs of resistant microorganisms. Patients who are carriers of resistant microorganisms can act as a source of infection for others.

8. Weak surveillance systems contribute to drug resistance.

Currently there are few well-established networks that regularly collect and report relevant data on drug resistance. Some countries lack laboratory facilities that can accurately identify resistant microorganisms. This impairs the ability to detect emergence of resistant microorganisms and take prompt actions.

9. The pipeline for new tools to combat drug resistance is drying up.

Existing antimicrobials are losing their effect. At the same time there is a decline in the development of new antimicrobials. Similarly, there is insufficient new research into new diagnostics to detect resistant microorganisms; and vaccines for preventing and controlling infections. If this trend continues, the arsenals of tools to combat resistant microorganism will soon be depleted.

10. WHO calls on stakeholders to combat drug resistance.

The threat from drug resistance is increasing. There is a need for urgent action; everyone can play a part. The complex problem of drug resistance requires collective action. On World Health Day, WHO is issuing a call for action to halt the spread of drug resistance by introducing a six-point policy package for all countries.

Source: World Health Organisation