New report: antibiotic resistance a global health threat

A new WHO report, “Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance”, launched today, provides the most comprehensive picture of antibiotic resistance across the world to date, with data from 114 countries. The findings document resistance to antibiotics, especially so-called last resort antibiotics, in all regions of the world. It also shows the gaps in surveillance systems and the need for a standardized approach to tracking and monitoring the issue.

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections caused by bacteria such as tuberculosis, bloodstream infections and pneumonia. They kill the bacteria or stop them from growing. Antibiotic resistance arises when bacteria change to protect themselves against an antibiotic.

Findings in the WHO European Region

The report reveals high levels of resistance to third-generation cephalosporins in “Klebsiella pneumoniae” throughout the Region. These cephalosporins are often used as an alternative to penicillin, to treat pneumonia, strep throat, staphylococcal infections, tonsillitis, bronchitis and gonorrhoea.

In some settings, up to 60% of “Staphylococcus aureus” infections (commonly skin infections and respiratory disease) are reported to be resistant to methicillin, meaning that treatment with standard antibiotics does not work.

The report also notes that, although most countries in the European Union (EU) have well established national and international systems for tracking antibiotic resistance, countries in other parts of the WHO European Region urgently need to strengthen or establish such surveillance systems.

Activities in the WHO European Region

WHO/Europe and its partners are supporting countries outside the EU through the newly established Central Asian and Eastern European Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance (CAESAR) network. The aim is to set up a network of national surveillance systems to monitor antibiotic resistance in all countries in the European Region, ensuring standardized data collection so that information is comparable.

This is part of activities to implement the European strategic action plan on antibiotic resistance, adopted by Member States in the Region in 2011. It covers 7 key areas of action:

  • promoting national intersectoral coordination;
  • strengthening surveillance of antimicrobial resistance;
  • strengthening  surveillance and promoting stewardship of antimicrobial drug use;
  • strengthening surveillance of resistance to and use of antimicrobial agents in the food animal industry;
  • improving infection control and stewardship of antimicrobial resistance in health care settings;
  • promoting research and innovation in new drugs and technology; and
  • ensuring patient safety and improving awareness of antimicrobial use and resistance.