Antibiotic Research UK is a charity devoted to raising awareness of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) among the public, governments and global authorities, promoting research into new ways to combat it and providing advice on treatment of infections. We are devoting some of our fundraising in this Rotary year from July 2023 to this cause.
AMR is the process whereby bacteria, viruses and fungi become resistant to antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal drugs. It is increasing worldwide, and it is estimated that 1.25 million patients die each year because of it. This is expected to rise to 10 million by 2050. It is important to understand that it is the germs that become resistant to drugs, not people. Even those who have never taken antibiotics may still become seriously ill if they encounter resistant bacteria.
Resistant bacteria in particular threaten to return health care to an early 20th century state in which common infections can no longer be treated. As well as risking many lives from simple infections, it may also render impossible modern medical treatments such as orthopaedic surgery, cancer (especially leukaemia) management and transplants.
Overuse of antibiotics in the 80 years since they were first made available for clinical use is the main culprit. Patients came to expect them to be prescribed for minor infections such as sore throats and earache, which we now know are likely to resolve on their own. 'Broad-spectrum' antibiotics that kill a wider range of bacteria have been used inappropriately instead of those targeted at specific infections. They are also used in veterinary medicine. In agriculture they are often used solely to enhance growth, not treat specific infections. Although we do not ingest them in our food, they may still be around in our environment and enable the evolution of resistance.
Drug companies are reluctant to try to produce new antimicrobial drugs, because they are only taken in short courses and would need to be strictly reserved for resistant cases. The financial return does not compensate for the huge cost of development, testing and clinical trials. Governments have been slow to understand the potential impact of resistance and promote research.
At our 101st Anniversary Charter Night Dinner on 26 September we heard a sobering talk by Professor Chris Dowson of Warwick University, a leading expert on AMR. We hope that by raising awareness we may make a contribution to the fight against this threat.
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