Why are we seeing more drug-resistant infections?
Drug resistance is a natural phenomenon, but its recent growth is largely driven by human activity.
Our collective overuse of antibiotics in humans, animals and plants is accelerating the development and spread of drug-resistant infections. Unnecessarily exposing bacteria to medicines creates more opportunities for drug resistance to develop and spread.
Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that only half of antibiotics are used correctly.
Antibiotics are used in huge quantities as growth promoters, prophylactics and therapeutic treatments in livestock, fish and crop farming. In some countries, it is thought that 80% of the total consumption of antibiotics is in the animal sector, largely for accelerating growth in healthy animals.
In human healthcare too, antibiotics are widely misused. Of the 150 million prescriptions for antibiotics written by doctors in the USA every year, 50 million were not necessary. In OECD countries, 50% of antibiotics prescribed by general practitioners are thought to be inappropriately used – either not needed, or the wrong antibiotic was prescribed.
In some countries, regulation on antibiotic use is poorly enforced or doesn’t exist at all. People can buy antibiotics over the counter to treat viral infections, instead of bacterial ones.
Although there is an urgent need to limit the inappropriate use of antibiotics, currently more lives are lost because of lack of access to life-saving antibiotics. Globally, almost 6 million people die each year from treatable infectious diseases.
Using antibiotics appropriately – and making them available and affordable where they’re needed – are both important for improving health globally, now and in the future.