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WHO launches tool for safer use of antibiotics, curb resistance

The health body has also begun a global campaign to achieve 60% increase in use of drugs that target a specific microorganism rather than several and lower risk of antibiotic resistance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a global campaign that urges countries to adopt its new online tool aimed at guiding policy-makers and health workers to use antibiotics safely and more effectively. Its another objective is to limit drugs that are at risk of resistance.

With the emergence of infections that are untreatable by all classes of antibiotics, antimicrobial resistance has become “an invisible pandemic”, says Mariângela Simão, assistant-director general for Access to Medicines at WHO.

In the absence of development of new drugs, “we must safeguard these precious last-line antibiotics to ensure we can still treat and prevent serious infections”, Simão said.

The tool, known as ‘AWaRe’, classifies antibiotics into three groups:

  • Access   — antibiotics used to treat the most common and serious infections
  • Watch    — antibiotics available at all times in the healthcare system
  • Reserve — antibiotics to be used sparingly or preserved and used only as a last resort

The campaign aims to achieve a 60 per cent increase in use of antibiotics under the Access group — cheap, ‘narrow-spectrum’ drugs (that target a specific microorganism rather than several) and also lower the risk of resistance — and also reduce use of the antibiotics most at risk of resistance from the Watch and Reserve groups. 

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent health risks of our time and threatens to undo a century of medical progress,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general. 

“All countries must strike a balance between ensuring access to life-saving antibiotics and slowing drug resistance by reserving the use of some antibiotics for the hardest-to-treat infections. I urge countries to adopt AWaRe, which is a valuable and practical tool for doing just that,” he added. 

Antibiotic resistance is already one of the biggest health risks and is estimated to kill 50 million by 2050 worldwide, says the British government’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

The threat continues to escalate globally because more than 50 per cent of antibiotics in many countries are used inappropriately such as for treatment of viruses when they only treat bacterial infections or use of the wrong (broader spectrum) antibiotic, according to a recent report by the International Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.

Besides, reduced access to effective and appropriate antibiotics in many low- and middle-income countries contributes to childhood deaths and lack of funding and implementation of national plans to tackle antimicrobial resistance, the report said.

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