THE BLOG

A Healthcare Nightmare Is Becoming Reality: What if Our Antibiotics No Longer Worked?

10/11/2015 08:52 GMT | Updated 09/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Much of my working life is devoted to non-communicable diseases and conditions - the things you can't catch, like cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure.

But there are certain issues that no health professional in any field can ignore - they are just too important - and antibiotic resistance is one of them.

I won't take up too much time explaining the problem in detail as there are many sources of information which do this well, but there is one simple statement that can sum it up in an instant; the antibiotics we rely on to save lives just aren't working as well as they used to.

These are some of the most precious medicines in our history, but overuse and misuse is chipping away at their effectiveness and ushering us all back to an era before they existed, where everyday bacterial infections were killers and surgery was dangerous.

In the debate about antibiotic resistance it's often said that the implications are too big to get a handle on - people say it's something that should perhaps only concern scientists or politicians - but along with an absolutely justified call for global action there are personal stories and personal actions we must all take.

Nothing brought this problem home to me more strongly than witnessing a close contact of mine face serious consequences of drug resistant bacteria. Despite being a young, strong and healthy individual he picked up an infection and it turned out that the bacteria was "resistant" to antibiotics. The drugs didn't work - they couldn't kill the bacteria.

What might once have been a quickly fixable problem actually led to very serious and long-term consequences for his health, his wellbeing, his work and his life.

This is of course just one person's story, but how many of us go through life with no need for antibiotics? We all need them - whether for an infected cut right through to modern cancer treatments or transplant surgery that rely on antibiotics to make them safe.

Imagine a world where these essential medicines are no longer available. This isn't science fiction; it's a crisis that's unfolding right in front of us.

So let's start with what we can all do as individuals, then what we can expect and demand from health authorities.

Patients must do everything they can to avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics. Of course some bacterial infections require antibiotics but too many of us ask for them when we or our kids are feeling terrible with coughs and sore throats that are actually viruses (antibiotics don't cure viruses so will not make us feel better).

In fact, avoiding any infection in the first place is the best solution - simple hand washing could go a long way to preventing bugs.

Health professionals, whether on the front line or management roles, obviously have a key role to play in prescribing effectively and politicians across the world must show leadership.

As human and animal health - as well as agriculture - has a stake in this issue the strategy across the UK involves a range of Government departments and figures, right up to the Prime Minister who has commissioned vital work to tackle this problem.

Of course, infections don't respect national borders so all nations must take this issue seriously, and indeed many do, but this is one of the biggest health challenges of our time and the race is on to find a long-term solution.

Because if we don't, the consequences are unthinkable, including a predicted extra 10 million deaths across the world every year by 2050 along with $100 trillion in lost output.

These are staggering numbers, but I want to refocus on the personal wellbeing aspects; the expectant mothers that will no longer be able to rely on safe childbirth, the worry for families and the huge impact on our physical and mental health that would result from a lack of ability to treat infections we once regarded as trivial.

Let's all take action from today. Whether you are a member of the public, a health professional or leader visit the Antibiotic Guardian website and make one simple pledge that you will carry out to protect our antibiotics and help save modern medicine.