The next pandemic: antimicrobial resistance

  03 September 2021

Antibiotics are substances that kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, and are at the heart of our defences against a range of bacterial infections that would otherwise be untreatable. They enable the safe and effective treatment of many infectious diseases, especially those requiring hospitalisation where the risk of infection is increased. They have contributed to extending the average human lifespan over the past 60 years and to simultaneous economic growth over that same period.

However, the golden age of antibiotics is under threat. Bacteria can defend themselves against antibiotics by mutating or acquiring new genes and becoming resistant to antibiotics. This is known as antimicrobial resistance, or AMR. We face a looming public health crisis and possibly another pandemic—currently an ‘invisible pandemic’—as a consequence of rapidly accelerating AMR and decreased investment by pharmaceutical companies in new antibiotic discovery. The World Health Organization has declared AMR one of the top 10 global health issues needing attention. While this article focuses on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, there are also issues with drug resistance in viruses, malaria parasites and fungi.

Author(s): Australian Academy of Sciences
Effective Surveillance  
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