WHO calls for urgent action against drug resistance

7 April 2011 - Geneva - Drug resistance is becoming more widespread, and many infectious diseases - notably tuberculosis (TB) - are no longer easily cured, leading to prolonged and expensive treatment and greater risk of death, WHO warned on World Health Day.

WHO is calling for urgent and concerted action by governments, health professionals, industry and civil society and patients to slow down the spread of drug resistance, limit its impact today and preserve medical advances for future generations.

"The message on this World Health Day is loud and clear. The world is on the brink of losing miracle cures," said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "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."

WHO has published a policy package that sets out the measures governments and their national partners need to combat drug resistance. Recommended steps include developing and implementing comprehensive national plans, strengthening surveillance and laboratory capacity and ensuring uninterrupted access to essential medicines of assured quality.

"WHO has established many initiatives to understand and address drug resistance over the last decade, particularly in relation to some of the world's most deadly infectious diseases," said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of WHO's Stop TB Department. "Those measures must now be further strengthened and implemented urgently across many diseases and across many sectors."

Drug-resistant TB represents a particularly serious public health threat, since it is airborne and can be transmitted from one person to another. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, there were an estimated 440 000 new cases of multidrug resistant-TB.

Governments need to take the lead but health professionals, civil society and other groups can also make important contributions, WHO says. For example, doctors and pharmacists can prescribe and dispense only the drugs that are required to treat a patient, rather than automatically giving either the newest or best-known medicines. Patients can stop demanding that doctors give them antibiotics when they may not be appropriate. Health professionals can help rapidly reduce the spread of infection in health care facilities.

World Health Day 2011