Friday, England’s chief medical officer warned world leaders that the world is headed towards a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” that would mean the “end of modern medicine” if antibiotics continue to lose their effectiveness against bacteria. Professor Dame Sally Davies warned that this dire, post-antibiotic apocalypse scenario is imminent if world leaders do not act right now.
“We really are facing – if we don’t take action now – a dreadful post-antibiotic apocalypse. I don’t want to say to my children that I didn’t do my best to protect them and their children,” Davies said.
She says that this end to modern medicine will spell disaster for fighting infections. Interventions like cesarean sections and hip replacements would become terribly risky, she added. Davies said that transplant medicine would become impossible. Bacterial antibiotic-resistance has already directly led to previously avoidable deaths. The Guardian reported Friday that drug-resistant infections will kill an estimated 10 million people each year by 2050 if the issue is not addressed properly.
Wellcome Trust and the United Kingdom government leaders helped organize a call to action meeting addressing health officials from multiple countries. This meeting will take place in Berlin. At the meeting, the UK leaders will announce a new project that will map incidences of drug-resistant diseases.
Davies spoke to BBC Radio stating that doctors can reduce antibiotic prescriptions with no harm to patients. She called for better diagnostics, because as many as one out of every three prescriptions for antibiotics may be given for symptoms that they are unable to fight. She pointed out that antibiotics are not effective against viruses.
This is not the first time that Davies warned of the disastrous nature of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. She is also not the first to issue such a strong warning. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the world is in grave danger of entering a post-antibiotic era.
“A post-antibiotic era—in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century,” the WHO warned.
In a 2013 PBS interview, Dr. Arjun Srinivasan of the CDC warned that the antibiotic era had already ended.
“For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about ‘The end of antibiotics, question mark?’ Well, now I would say you can change the title to ‘The end of antibiotics, period.'”
Before that, in 2012, the WHO’s director-general Dr. Margaret Chan issued her warning in a keynote address in Copenhagen, Denmark, at a conference about combating antimicrobial resistance.
“A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”
Five years later, the situation has become even more dire, just as Chan warned. Davies said that the post-antibiotic era has begun.
“This is a serious issue that is with us now, causing deaths. If it was anything else, people would be up in arms about it. But because it is hidden they just let it pass.
“It does not really have a ‘face’ because most people who die of drug-resistant infections, their families just think they died of an uncontrolled infection. It will only get worse unless we take strong action everywhere across the globe. We need some real work on the ground to make a difference or we risk the end of modern medicine.”
This year, Wellcome’s Director Jeremy Farrar said that drug-resistant infections are already killing 700,000 people a year. Wellcome Trust committed millions in a global pledge to prevent an antibiotic apocalypse like Davies warned of on Friday.
[Featured Image by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Images]