Global leaders urged to address ‘fragile progress’ on tackling superbugs

GLOBAL efforts to counter the threat of dangerous superbugs must move faster and with more focus, health leaders are warning.

Government ministers, scientists, industry and civil society leaders are meeting in Berlin for an international conference to discuss how to accelerate efforts to tackle rising drug-resistant infections – which already kill 700,000 people a year worldwide.

The Call to Action event in Berlin on October 12 and 13 is organised by the Wellcome Trust, in partnership with the UK, Thai and Ghanaian Governments and the United Nations Foundation.

Analysis by Wellcome and the UN Foundation shows that while 151 of 195 countries are developing an action plan to tackle drug-resistant infections, only half address the threat across human and animal health and the environment. Just 1 in 5 commit to reducing antibiotic use, improving hygiene and preserving antibiotics of last resort and only 5 per cent are adequately funded and monitored.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust said: "Political and societal recognition of the threat superbugs pose has definitely increased. But the progress is fragile. We need to make sure we all convert that welcome high-level commitment into real action that makes a tangible difference to people lives. There is no doubt that together, we can stop the superbugs which could undermine the whole of modern medicine. But the impact is now and the time to act is now, we need to bring real urgency to this."

If not effectively addressed, numbers dying from drug-resistant infections could rise to 10 million within a generation, with economic costs reaching US $100 trillion.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Health Officer for England said: "Superbugs will be a defining medical challenge of our age, and despite knowing about the problem for decades we have still not made enough progress to address it. Political commitments and recognition are a huge first step. But this conference is about accelerating the tangible and concrete next steps so we can stay ahead of superbugs."

The Call to Action event will highlight the need to co-ordinate the range of different initiatives begun and address key critical gaps in global action, including:

Last year, the UN General Assembly recognised drug-resistant infections as one of the greatest threats facing humanity. In July, G20 leaders reiterated their countries’ commitment to sustained action.

Last month, a World Health Organization report was the latest in a series to warn that the world is running out of antibiotics, as drug development fails to keep up with the rise of drug resistance.

Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation, said: "Following the UN General Assembly's focus on antimicrobial resistance last year, the UN is setting the global agenda by providing countries critical technical support on this urgent health challenge. We must all work together - private industry, philanthropy, citizens, and government - to ensure a healthy future for generations to come."

The actions shared at the event will support the work of the UN taskforce -  the Inter-Agency Coordination Group (IACG) on AMR.