As effective therapy using antibiotics becomes increasingly difficult due to resistance, the emphasis must move from cure to prevention of bacterial infection. There is an urgent need to take internationally coordinated action to curb the further development of antibiotic resistance. The steps required are complex and will require engagement on a national and international level. So, it’s encouraging to see antibiotic resistance on the G8 agenda. Here’s eight solutions that have been discussed by G8 summit science ministers:
- Get antibiotic resistance on the agenda. The fact that the issue is being discussed at all demonstrates that the problem is being recognized. The recent rhetoric from Dame Sally Davies (“antibiotic resistance as big a risk as terrorism”) and the US CDC (“deadly, untreatable superbugs”) will help.
- Reduce overuse (abuse) of antibiotics in medical, veterinary and other applications. Antibiotics simply should not be used to fatten up animals and stop barnacles attaching to ship hulls!
- Restrict the availability of antibiotics where they are currently available over the counter. According to Dame Sally Davies, 83% of Russian families use antibiotics inappropriately at home.
- Stimulate the discovery of new antibiotics, and streamline the testing and approvals required to bring a new antibiotic to market. Drugs are expensive to discover and then bring to market. Pharmaceutical companies are not currently focused on developing new antibiotics and need to be incentivized.
- Improve and share surveillance efforts. National and international surveillance systems should be established for emerging resistant strains.
- Highlight the financial burden of antibiotic resistance ($21bn-$34bn a year in the US, £10bn a year in the UK).
- Stop selling antibiotics at the cost of Smarties. Otherwise they will be consumed like Smarties. Generic antibiotics can be very cheap indeed; increasing the price of generic antibiotics will provide a financial barrier to inappropriate over-the-counter use.
- Develop rapid diagnostics to reduce the universal or empiric use of inappropriate / ineffective agents. This does not sit well with the proposed universal use of antibiotics.
There’s no simple solution to the problem of increasing antibiotic resistance. The problem is long-standing, multi-factorial and global. However, international collaboration can make real progress is curbing the increase in antibiotic resistance rates and perhaps even begin to reverse the trend.