Next time you pop an antibiotic for a minor ailment like a stomach bug or a persistent common cold, remember that this habit of treating antibiotics like sweets could send you to an early grave. This is not scaremongering but a hard reality that drug resistance is becoming a huge problem. Doctors have been warning people for ages not to take antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription and to always complete the entire course of antibiotics prescribed but the fact is that no one is listening. There is an enormous ignorance about this looming health crisis which experts believe is going to take millions of lives in the near future. Even people who are aware about antibiotics resistance have a casual attitude when it comes to mindlessly quaffing antibiotics.
Experts believe that the loss of human lives due to antibiotics resistance is expected to touch 10 million lives a year by 2050. Drug resistance has already claimed a million lives and if no action is taken to tackle this problem, deaths due to drug resistance will overtake cancer related deaths in the future.
Antibiotics of the past which were celebrated as medical breakthroughs because they were thought to have put an end to infectious diseases are becoming ineffective today because the bugs have developed a resistance to them. A prime example is tuberculosis which had been conquered by antibiotics and was no longer a killer but that is history now because multi-drug resistant superbugs are today driving an enormous tuberculosis death toll across the globe. These superbugs are strong strands of bacteria responsible for the common gut, urinary and blood infections which have today morphed into dangerous killers because they have become immune to the antibiotics we have been taking on a regular basis.
Former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill advocated a radical measure of prevailing upon the pharmaceutical industry to “pay or play” whereby drug companies must be mandated to either research and develop new antibiotics or otherwise be prepared to fund other companies to do so. He also suggested banning doctors from prescribing antibiotics until tests are carried out to prove that the infection is bacterial.
As superbugs take their toll, developing countries will bear the brunt of the problem due to poor sanitation, poor access to clean drinking water and healthcare. Clearly, besides a concerted campaign to educate people on antibiotic resistance, efforts are also needed to prevent infections from cropping up in the first place.