An extraordinary gathering at the United Nations on September 21 may have permanently changed how the world deals with antibiotic resistance, which is believed to kill 700,000 people around the world each year.
During the UN meeting, the entire assembly signed on to a political declaration that calls antibiotic resistance the greatest and most urgent global risk. But it is what they do next that will determine whether the threat can really be contained.
And alarming news announced while the meeting was happening made clear how urgent it is that antibiotic resistance be reined in.
At a simultaneous meeting in Atlanta, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disclosed that the sexually transmitted disease gonorrheawhich has become steadily more drug-resistant over several yearshas taken a dramatic turn toward becoming untreatable.
Meanwhile, a multinational research team announced that they have identified a new strain of the drug-resistant staph bacterium MRSA that appears to be traveling on poultry meat.
The UN meeting, formally the High Level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance, marked only the fourth time that the world body has acted on a health issue. (The last time was the Ebola emergency in 2014.) Leaders signaled right from the start that they considered the day important.
Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental long-term threat to human health, sustainable food production, and development, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a speech opening the meeting. In all parts of the world, in developing and developed countries, in rural and urban areas, in hospitals, on farms, and in communities, we are losing our ability to protect both people and animals from life-threatening infections.
His assessment of the dire situation was backed up by the World Health Organization's executive director, Margaret Chan. Antimicrobial resistance poses a fundamental threat to human health, development, and security, she said as the meeting opened. The commitments made today must now be translated into swift, effective, lifesaving actions across the human, animal, and environmental health sectors. We are running out of time.
The agreement made by the world governments, which will be formally voted in before the General Assembly ends, commits them to creating national plans for combating antibiotic resistance in medicine, agriculture, and the environment, and to reporting back to the General Assembly in 2018 on their progress.