Antibiotics are easily among the most important medical treatments that have ever been discovered, but many researchers are beginning to fear that the age of easy antibiotic use is ending. In the European Union alone, some 25,000 people die every year from antibiotic-resistant bacterial diseases, and the number is only projected to rise. As a result of overprescription, overuse in farm animals, and the increasing presence of antibiotics in wastewater, drug-resistant bacteria are on the rise, and the costs are staggering. One study estimated that the EU spends some 1.5 billion euros annually to treat multidrug-resistant bacteria. Furthermore, hospitals themselves have proven unable to stem the tide, especially given that studies have found that the use of antibiotics in hospitals has been the biggest vector for the ever-expanding number of drug-resistant bacterial infections.
Fortunately, the international medical community has already begun a multifaceted effort to target this issue. One key effort has its basis in the UK Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, a British effort that has focused on the economics of the issue. In response to the review’s findings, the UK government has established the Fleming Fund, an international effort that has already raised some 195 million pounds to target these diseases.
The Fleming Fund was designed, in part, to target one of the key aspects in tackling the drug-resistant bacteria issue: reporting. Before 2020, the fund will be used to build reporting and response networks across the globe, especially in the developing world, with a particular focus on making it easier to report and track the spread of these bacteria. The fund’s backers hope to work alongside their counterparts in the IT industry to design novel methods for real-time disease tracking, which will help to identify regions where drug-resistant bacteria are spreading. Other efforts underway focus on the dearth of new antibiotics, and the hope is that the international pharmaceutical industry will discover new ways to fight microbes that are resistant to the common antibiotic treatments currently in use.