UN Declaration must be turning point for tackling drug-resistant infections

World leaders at the United Nations General Assembly have today committed to tackling the rise in drug resistant infections.

The Wellcome Trust’s Director, Dr Jeremy Farrar has welcomed the declarations made at the UN as an acknowledgement of the scale of the issue and as a turning point for a global response to the problem.

More than a thousand people around the world have signed our petition calling on the UN to act now on drug resistant infections, many with emotive and personal messages as to why this cause matters to them.

A wide variety of infections such as TB, gonorrhoea, malaria and Salmonella are becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat them. Such infections are already responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world each year and this is set to rise to 10 million by 2050 if nothing is done to address the issue. Experts fear that common infections could become untreatable and the threat of a fatal infection could make routine operations such as hip replacements too risky.

Today (Wednesday), the UN General Assembly held a high level meeting on drug resistant infections. It is only the fourth time in the UN’s history that a health issue has been discussed at this level. Drug-resistant infections now join the ranks of AIDS, Ebola and non-communicable diseases – such as cancer and diabetes.

Following the discussion, the 193 countries of the UN have signed a declaration recognising the threat that drug resistant infections pose to global health security and the potential economic and social impacts. The declaration lays out steps for meeting this threat.

Dr Farrar said: “The rise in drug resistant infections is a disaster at all levels - from the loss of 700,000 lives each year, to the crushing burden it places on health systems around the world. This declaration must mark the turning point in averting this escalating threat to global health security.”

UN members gave their backing for global efforts to use surveillance to fully understand the scale of drug resistance and to raise awareness of the issue among the public and health workers. They have agreed to address the problem by ensuring drugs - including antibiotics - are used prudently in human and animal health. The agreement also supports the development of new technologies to diagnose and treat infections and recognises the important role of vaccines in preventing infections.

Dr Farrar said: “Drug resistant infections do not respect international borders and to tackle this problem, we need all nations to be on board. Each and every country must now identify what actions they can take to address drug resistance. And there must be a mechanism to ensure that nations are helped when needed and held accountable.

“As part of this action, Wellcome and other research funders must give our full support to research that’s needed to understand the causes of and solutions to the problem.”

The Wellcome Trust funds more than £280m of research on understanding and tackling drug resistant infections including malaria, TB, and MRSA. Wellcome is also looking at new and better ways to diagnose and treat these diseases, and control their spread.

Earlier this week, a World Bank report said that the failure of antimicrobial drugs could cause low-income countries to lose more than five per cent of their gross domestic product and push up to 28 million people, mostly in developing countries, into poverty by 2050. The report echoes the earlier findings of the independent Review on AMR, led by Lord Jim O’Neill, and predicts increases in healthcare costs around the world in the range of $300 billion to $1 trillion per year by 2050.

“It’s crucial that these declarations result in measurable actions to stem the impact of drug resistance.  We can now look to the G20 to maintain momentum on this issue,” Dr Farrar added.