WHO to develop global plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance
The World Health Organization (WHO) will prepare a draft global plan to tackle the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance, it was announced at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, last month (24 May 2014).
The resolution urges countries to strengthen their drug management systems, to support research to extend the lifespan of existing drugs, and to encourage the development of new diagnostics and treatment options. Once the draft plan is complete, it will be presented to member states for approval at the World Health Assembly in May 2015.
International pressure to create the plan mounted following the publication last month of a WHO report on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) surveillance. The report identified resistance in seven different bacteria responsible for common and serious infections, including pneumonia, sepsis, diarrhoea, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea.
The plan is to coordinate international efforts to reduce the use of antimicrobials, integrate prevention of antimicrobial resistance for humans and animals, improve prevention and control of infection through sanitary measures and vaccination, enhance global AMR awareness, and promote access to quality medicines and healthcare.
Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said: “AMR is making modern medicine useless.” Between 1983 and 1992, US authorities approved 30 new antibiotics, but this fell to just seven between 2003 and 2012, because drug companies have too few incentives and face too many regulatory barriers.
There have been no new classes of antibiotics for 25 years, and with no new antibiotics in development, “the pipeline is anaemic”, says Katy Athersuch, a policy adviser for the humanitarian charity Médecins Sans Frontières. She believes that society can no longer rely on the traditional research and development model, and that “we need to develop a new incentive scheme to spur innovation of new diagnostic tools as well as medicines”.
On a par with climate change
A few days before the resolution was passed, two experts wrote in the journal Nature that a “powerful” international panel is needed to tackle the growing threat from AMR.
In many ways, AMR is similar to climate change, they argued. “Both are processes operating on a global scale for which humans are largely responsible. In antimicrobial resistance, as in climate change, the practices of one country affect many others,” wrote Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust.
Their proposed intergovernmental panel on antimicrobial resistance (IPAMR) would be similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was created in 1988, and which they believe is “arguably the most successful attempt in history to empower scientific consensus to inform global policy and practice”.
The IPAMR would encourage the implementation of policies to prevent the loss of effective drugs to resistance, and promote the development of alternatives. They stress that the panel must be trusted and “free of vested interests”, and should include a broad range of experts. It would also need financial, industrial and political support from governments and agencies, including the WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the World Trade Organization, as well as industry.
In June, the WHO will host a global conference at The Hague in the Netherlands on antibiotic resistance with the theme “joining forces for future health”. The objective will be to accelerate political commitment in the fight against AMR and contribute to the global action plan.
Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11138821