Antimicrobial resistance, the ability of microorganisms to find ways to evade the action of the drugs used to cure the infections they cause, is increasingly recognized as a global public health issue which could hamper the control of many infectious diseases. Some bacteria have developed mechanisms which render them resistant to many of the antibiotics normally used for their treatment (multidrug-resistant bacteria), so pose particular difficulties, as there may be few or no alternative options for therapy. They constitute a growing and global public health problem.
WHO suggests that countries should be prepared to implement hospital infection control measures to limit the spread of multidrug-resistant strains and to reinforce national policy on prudent use of antibiotics, reducing the generation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
An article published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on Aug. 11, 2010 identified a new gene that enables some types of bacteria to be highly resistant to almost all antibiotics. The article has drawn attention to the issue of AMR, and, in particular, has raised awareness of infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria.
While multidrug-resistant bacteria are not new and will continue to appear, this development requires monitoring and further study to understand the extent and modes of transmission, and to define the most effective measures for control.
Those called upon to be alert to the problem of antimicrobial resistance and take appropriate action include consumers, prescribers and dispensers, veterinarians, managers of hospitals and diagnostic laboratories, patients and visitors to healthcare facilities, as well as national governments, the pharmaceutical industry, professional societies, and international agencies.
WHO strongly recommends that governments focus control and prevention efforts in four main areas: surveillance for antimicrobial resistance; rational antibiotic use, including education of healthcare workers and the public in the appropriate use of antibiotics; introducing or enforcing legislation related to stopping the selling of antibiotics without prescription; and strict adherence to infection prevention and control measures, including the use of handwashing measures, particularly in healthcare facilities.
Successful control of multidrug-resistant microorganisms has been documented in many countries, and the existing and well-known infection prevention and control measures can effectively reduce transmission of multi-drug resistant organisms if rigorously and systematically implemented.
WHO will continue to support countries to develop relevant policies, and to coordinate international efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance will be the theme of WHO's World Health Day 2011.