The World Health Organization has released a significant report marking what I think must be the first attempt to quantify antibiotic resistance globally. It’s a very sobering read — not just for what the data says about the advance of resistance worldwide, but also because of what the organization could not say, because the data doesn’t exist.
The numbers themselves are unsettling. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director general, told the press: “It’s clear that rates are very high of resistance among bacteria causing many of the most common serious infections – the ones that we see both occurring in the community as well as in hospitals … In all regions of the world, we now see that hospitals are reporting untreatable, or nearly untreatable, infections.”
But the gaps in the numbers are too: There are 194 member countries in the WHO, but only 114 had the data-gathering resources to contribute something to the report, and only 22 were able to send in data on the most important occurrences of resistance in very common bacteria. Thus it’s possible that the report could be an under-estimate, or an over-estimate. But I can’t think of a scenario in which it could be considered substantially inaccurate. Its portrait of a world in which antibiotic resistance is advancing to grave proportions ought to be taken seriously.