Increase In Drug-Resistant Infections Sparks Call For Global Action

Partner content from Kaiser Health News

Infectious diseases resistant to treatment could become increasingly common and severe without a coordinated international effort to thwart them.

Drug-resistant strains of major infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis have already emerged. i i

hide captionDrug-resistant strains of major infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis have already emerged.

Janice Haney Carr/CDC
Drug-resistant strains of major infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis have already emerged.

Drug-resistant strains of major infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis have already emerged.

Janice Haney Carr/CDC

Medicines against microbes tend to become less effective over time. But a report from the Center for Global Development finds that resistance to the drugs is hastened in many countries by drug misuse, weak health systems and overuse of the medicines in agriculture.

Drug-resistant strains of major infectious diseases, such as malaria, pneumonia and tuberculosis have already emerged. And in some cases, drug-resistant mutations have become the dominant strain. Some examples:

  • 60 to 80 percent of dysentery strains in children in Latin America are resistant to recommended drugs, according to the report.
  • 10 years ago drug-resistant HIV strains made up between 1 and 5 percent of cases, but now make up between 5 and 10 percent of cases worldwide, the Associated Press reported in January as part of a series of articles looking at drug-resistance.
  • Earlier this year, Reuters reported on the ongoing story of malaria along the Thai-Cambodian border that is showing resistance to the most effective drugs on the market.

The problem isn't restricted to poor countries. In the United States, the "superbug" methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA) went from accounting for 2 percent of hospital staph infections in 1974 to more than 50 percent in 2004.

The report also says that international donors' efforts to improve access to drugs in the developing has helped fuel drug resistance.

Work to curb the problem has mostly been disease- or country-specific, according to Rachel Nugent, CGD's deputy director for global health and chair of the group that prepared the report.  “Some have been more successful than others, but none have addressed the problem on a global scale and across diseases," she says, adding that a "systemic global response" is missing.

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