More than 10 million people worldwide are at risk of dying from drug-resistant diseases.
The effect on economy could be as bad as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, and would push 24 million into poverty by 2030, a groundbreaking report by the UN, international agencies and experts says.
The experts demand an “immediate, coordinated and ambitious action to avert a potentially disastrous drug-resistance crisis”.
Antibiotic resistance renders a drug ineffective against the targeted bacteria, and misuse of the drugs speeds up the process. Resistance is complex and harder to overcome, and can affect anyone.
More than 40 million antibiotic prescriptions in 2011 in Kenya were unnecessary.
The major reasons for antibiotic overuse include patients’ ignorance of etiology (cause of disease or condition), especially those prone to self-medication and buying drugs over the counter.
Currently, at least 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases, 230,000 of them from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.
The median cost of treating a resistant bacterial infection is Sh70,000 globally.
More and more common diseases, including respiratory tract, sexually transmitted, and urinary tract infections, are becoming untreatable.
Life-saving medical procedures are becoming riskier, and our food systems are growing increasingly hazardous.
“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest threats we face as a global community. This report reflects the depth and scope of the response needed to curb its rise and protect a century of progress in health,” said Ms Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General and co-chair of the organisation’s coordination group, the IACG.
“It rightly emphasises that there is no time to wait, and I urge all stakeholders to act on its recommendations and work urgently to protect our people and planet and secure a sustainable future for all,” she added.
The experts said the world is already feeling the economic and health consequences as crucial medicines become ineffective, adding that without investment by all countries, future generations will face the impact of antimicrobial resistance.
Recognising that human, animal, food and environmental health are closely interconnected, the report calls for a coordinated, multisectoral “one health” approach.
In an earlier interview with Ms Barbara Wieland, team leader of herd health at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), she acknowledged that the problem is growing in Kenya.
“Most of these are the result of people getting treated at hospitals or pharmacies, or from buying drugs and treating themselves without prescription. Some drugs no longer work for some diseases …” she said.
She said that the problem is also common in livestock, and that people tend to follow a trial-and-error approach.
“When a disease is resistant to several antibiotics, it is said to be multidrug resistant. At ILRI, we often find multidrug resistant bacteria in livestock, and people,” she said.
A bacterium that is resistant to all known antibiotics is pan drug resistant. At the moment, only a few exist. Examples are lebsiella pneumoniae in the US and pseudomonas aeuginosa in the UK.
Ms Wieland noted that in Kenya, most people don’t adhere to drug withdrawal periods in livestock.
In Ethiopia, a study showed that in some production systems, about 80 per cent of farmers consume milk before the withdrawal period of a cow’s course of antibiotics is over.
“The bacteria can remain on meat. If the meat is not handled or cooked properly, the bacteria can spread to humans. The same applies to fertiliser or water containing animal faeces.
"If a person gets an antibiotic and develops a drug-resistant bacterium in his gut, he can easily spread it to his family, community, or other patients when he visits a health facility,” she said.
A while back, Kenyans were upset when American chain Burger King said it would continue selling chicken given antibiotics in Kenya but had committed to stop doing so in the US and Canada.