Antibiotic resistance may be the biggest health problem of our time

Bacteria are among the oldest living things on the planet. I consider bacteria “prokaryote” as our ancestors that created eukaryote. They are masters of survival and can be found everywhere.
A pharmacist selects drugs from a shelf. The threat of antibiotic resistance has become so great that the United Nations General Assembly held a meeting in September to discuss the....
A pharmacist selects drugs from a shelf. The threat of antibiotic resistance has become so great that the United Nations General Assembly held a meeting in September to discuss the....

Editor,

RE: “Antibiotic resistance: Why it’s on the rise” (The New Times, October 31).

 

Bacteria are among the oldest living things on the planet. I consider bacteria “prokaryote” as our ancestors that created eukaryote. They are masters of survival and can be found everywhere.

 

There are billions living on and in every one of us, helping our bodies to run smoothly and stay healthy. Most are harmless to us, but some can invade our cells, spread quickly and cause havoc while others enter cells in our body and quickly replicate genes and control them. Throwing chemicals (drugs) at them can only help them use the atoms to help them create ammunition to protect themselves.

 

Millions of people used to die as a result of bacterial infections until we developed antibiotics. These wonder drugs revolutionised medicine and have saved millions of lives, but you can have too much of a good thing.

Doctors used antibiotics recklessly, prescribing them for just about everything. We even gave them to cattle and used them to fatten chickens and treat animals. Companies still mindlessly market antimicrobial products for hands and home claiming they kill bacteria and viruses. They do more harm than good because these products have low concentration of antimicrobial that kill friendly bacteria and not viruses.

Overuse of these products helped to create our worst enemy — superbugs (bacteria that cannot be killed by antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals or any other chemical weapon we throw at them). This could mean that in the not too distant future, something as simple as a minor cut could become life threatening if it becomes infected.

Any species of bacteria can turn into a superbug, making antibiotic resistance the biggest health problem of our time. Some are calling it the ‘antibiotic apocalypse’.

Doctors are powerless and cannot stop the menace from spreading and infecting whole populations, causing disability and death on a massive scale. One of the biggest threats currently facing humanity may sound like science fiction, but it is reality and it’s happening now.

As I said in Medica 2006 (Dusseldorf, Germany), “This is a war that we may never win”, a global problem that should have been addressed at least two decades ago.

The threat of antibiotic resistance has become so great that the United Nations General Assembly held a meeting in September to discuss the crisis. This is only the fourth time in its history that the UN has convened a high-level meeting about a health issue. It resulted in a declaration signed by all 193 member states to make the fight against antibiotic resistance a priority. But the age of the superbug is already here, and the UN’s actions may not be enough to avert a global crisis.

Superbugs should be of great concern to everyone because antibiotics are the foundation on which all modern medicine rests. Cancer therapy, organ transplants, surgeries (minor and major) and childbirth all rely on antibiotics to prevent infections. If infections become untreatable we lose the medical advances we have made in the last fifty years.

Dr Kadiyali M. Srivatsa

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