The United Nations has entered the discussion on the issue of drug-resistant diseases, which are believed responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in fact referred to antimicrobial resistance as a “fundamental threat” to global health at a recent UN General Assembly meeting. Officials at the recent meeting recommended greater cooperation and innovation in dealing with antimicrobial resistance. In a formal declaration, the governing body issued a requirement that member nations establish two-year plans to develop and monitor new antibiotics. Greater preventive measures were also recommended to avoid such situations as the recent Ebola virus epidemic in Africa.
According to one estimate, more than 700,000 men, women, and children die every year from infections that do not respond to drugs. However, this estimate may actually be on the low side due to the absence of a global monitoring system. There has even been some difficulty in determining the nature of many deaths in areas where there is such monitoring. In addition to the continuing loss of life, antimicrobial resistance could be harmful to the international economy, costing as much as $100 trillion by 2050 and possibly reducing the world’s gross national product by as much as 4 percent, according to one UN estimate. It was previously announced that the economic aspects of this issue would at the least make it unlikely for the world’s economy to reach its desired level of growth.
Concern over the issue of drug-resistant diseases actually dates back more than 70 years and was initially raised by the biologist who developed the first successful antibiotic. In accepting a Nobel Prize for his discovery of penicillin, Alexander Fleming noted that microscopic organisms could eventually become resistant to such drugs. A UN health official recently elaborated on this concept by noting that, in addition to new “superbugs” that are completely resistant to medications, such known diseases as pneumonia are becoming more difficult to treat. Meningitis was cited as another problem disease, as was the issue of infections resulting from surgical procedures. This marks only the fourth time that the UN General Assembly has convened for the purpose of dealing with a health issue. The importance of the issue was also reflected in the support for the agreement, with all 193 member countries signing the declaration. Leaders have agreed on the need for increased monitoring, working with the WHO and other agencies, as well as cooperation between nations to combat this threat.