Your child falls and grazes her elbow. It’s common enough, and no cause for concern: soon forgotten once the tears are mopped up. But before long, it could be a potential death sentence.
The antibiotics used to treat even minor wounds when they become infected – as well as far more serious conditions – are rapidly losing their effectiveness, in the face of ever more resistant germs. There’s also a lack of new ones to take their place. We face the horrifying prospect of returning to the dark medical age before the discovery of penicillin, thanks both to the over-prescribing of antibiotics by doctors and – as a new report makes clear – by their virtually indiscriminate use in factory farms.
Typical journalistic scaremongering? No, but don’t take it from me. Here’s Dr Margaret Chan, who as head of the constitutionally cautious World Health Organisation (WHO) is humanity’s premier guardian of public health, speaking recently at a Danish Government conference.
“A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she warned. “Things as common as a strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill. Some sophisticated interventions, like hip replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy and care of pre-term infants, would become far more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake.”
Dr Chan described how the world is “losing” its present antibiotics, while “the pipeline is virtually dry” for new ones. Drug companies are not bothering to research or develop replacements, partly because they make much more money out of treatments for conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure – which are taken for life, rather than in short courses – and partly because they fear they will not recoup their investment before bacteria develop resistance and render the new drugs useless.