Deadly superbugs on top in war on humanity

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
Image: ©Wallenrock/

Superbugs, which cause sepsis, pneumonia and salmonella, will soon be resistant to antibiotics, the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned - and it has called on governments to stop relying on pharmaceutical companies to solve the crisis.

UN health officials have drawn up a list of the 12 bacteria that pose the "greatest threat to human health" because soon no drugs will be able to fight them off.

Experts have previously warned that growing resistance to the drugs used to fight infections could pose a bigger threat to mankind than cancer.

If antibiotics continue to lose their effectiveness, key medical procedures - including organ transplants, Caesarean sections and chemotherapy - would become too dangerous to use. About 700,000 people around the world are killed every year by drug-resistant infections and, if no action is taken, it has been estimated that the toll will be 10million a year by 2050.

The WHO has urged governments to introduce incentives for the development of drugs.

In South Africa, hospitals have been commended for fighting resistance to antibiotics by reducing their misuse.

A study published recently in the SA Medical Journal found that Groote Schuur Hospital had drastically reduced the incorrect use of antibiotics and by doing so saved millions of rands as well as countless lives.

"Overuse of antibiotics has driven global bacterial resistance to the extent that we have entered a post-antibiotic era in which infections that were once easily treatable are now becoming untreatable.

"Efforts to control the consumption of these drugs have focused on antibiotic stewardship programmes, aimed at optimising their use," the report on the study said.

Groote Schuur was able to cut antibiotic consumption from 1,046 defined daily doses per 1,000 patient days in 2011 to 868 by 2013. The reduction was maintained for the next two years.

The programme saved the hospital R2.8-million over four years.

There was no significant change in the mortality of patients or in the readmission rate of patients, showing that healthcare quality did not drop.

  • There has been an outcry about the WHO's failure to include the biggest killer in South Africa, tuberculosis, on its list of the most dangerous bacterial diseases.

"The absence of TB from this list is shocking," said Mel Spigelman, president and CEO of TB Alliance.

"The effort to develop drugs to cure TB is always chronically underfunded," said Spigelman.

TB is the world's deadliest infectious disease, killing 1.8 million people every year.

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now