Common infections becoming untreatable, say experts

Over 1.27 million people worldwide world die each year from antimicrobial resistance, one in five are children under five

In Summary

• WHO says too few anti-microbial drugs are being developed and innovation is lacking.

• In Kenya in 2019, 8,500 deaths were attributable to AMR and 37,300 deaths associated with AMR.


Too few trailblazing drugs are being developed to replace increasing number of medicines becoming useless against common infections.

The World Health Organization cited growing anti-microbial resistance in its latest report on antibacterial agents, including antibiotics, being developed worldwide.

WHO said although the number of antibacterial agents in clinical trials increased from 80 in 2021 to 97 last year, they are not enough.

It said there is a pressing need for new, innovative agents for serious infections and to replace those becoming ineffective due to widespread use and over use.

“Antimicrobial resistance is only getting worse yet we’re not developing new trailblazing products fast enough to combat the most dangerous and deadly bacteria,” said Dr Yukiko Nakatani, WHO’s assistant director general for antimicrobial resistance.

“Innovation is badly lacking yet, even when new products are authorised, access is a serious challenge. Antibacterial agents are simply not reaching patients who desperately need them, in countries of all income levels."

Antibiotic resistance (AMR), which comes largely due to improper and excessive use of medications, can lead to common illnesses becoming hard to treat.

It occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites no longer respond to medicines, making people sicker and increasing the risk of spreading of infections that are difficult to treat, sometimes causing more serious illness and deaths.

In Kenya in 2019, there were 8,500 deaths attributed to AMR and 37,300 deaths associated with AMR, according to the Institute of Health Metrics Research.

WHO report evaluates whether the current research and development pipeline properly addresses infections caused by the drug-resistant bacteria most threatening to human health. These are detailed in the 2024 WHO bacterial priority pathogen list.

AMR is driven largely by misuse and overuse of antimicrobials, yet, at the same time, many people around the world do not have access to essential antimicrobial medicines.

WHO said there is not enough innovation. There are too few antibacterials in the pipeline, given how much time is needed for research and development.

Of the 32 antibiotics under development to address bacterial priority pathogens list, only 12 can be considered innovative.

Just four of these 12 are active against at least one WHO ‘critical’ pathogen – critical being the top risk category, above ‘high’ and ‘medium’ priority.

There are gaps across the entire pipeline, including in products for children, oral formulations more convenient for outpatients and agents to tackle rising drug resistance.

Encouragingly, non-traditional biological agents, such as bacteriophages, antibodies, anti-virulence agents, immune-modulating agents and microbiome-modulating agents are increasingly being explored as complements and alternatives to antibiotics.

However, studying and regulating non-traditional agents is not straightforward. Further efforts are needed to facilitate clinical studies and assessments of these products, to help determine when and how to use these agents clinically.

In August last year, Kenya was among 25 countries that benefitted from UK funding to support the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

The British High Commission in a statement said the Sh38.1 billion will go towards setting up state-of-the-art laboratories, cutting-edge disease surveillance systems and a bigger global workforce in the next three years.

It also will include investment in new genome sequencing technology, which will help track bacterial transmission between humans, animals and the environment.

According to the statement, the funding was expected to bolster surveillance capacity in 25 countries where the threat and burden of AMR is highest.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a silent killer which poses a significant threat to people’s health around the world and here in the UK,” said UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay.

“It’s vital it is stopped in its tracks and this record funding will allow countries most at risk to tackle it and prevent it from taking more lives across the world, ultimately making us safer at home.”

Data shows that more than 1.27 million people around the world die each year due to antimicrobial resistance with one in five of those deaths in children under five.

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