A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for better tracking of antibiotic use and resistance, along with other measures, to slow the emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The report, titled “Antimicrobial resistance: Global report on surveillance,” says resistance is occurring across many different infectious agents in every region of the world. This report focuses on seven different bacteria responsible for common, serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea.

Key findings from the report include:

  • A common intestinal bacteria, Klebsiella pneumonia, has developed resistance to the treatment of last resort, carbapenem antibiotics, in all regions of the world. The pathogen is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, infections in newborns and intensive-care unit patients.
  • E. coli bacteria involved in urinary-tract infections have developed resistance to fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics that were effective in the past but are now ineffective in more than half of patients in some countries.
  • The bacteria causing gonorrhea has developed resistance to third-generation cephalosporins, the last-resort treatment, in several nations.

The report’s authors note that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health security threat that requires action across government sectors and society as a whole. Surveillance that generates reliable data is the essential foundation of global strategies and public-health actions to contain AMR. WHO is developing a global action plan for AMR that will include:

  • Development of tools and standards for harmonized surveillance of ABR in humans, and for integrated surveillance in food-producing animals and the food chain.
  • Elaboration of strategies for population-based surveillance of AMR and its health and economic impact.
  • Collaboration between AMR surveillance networks and centers to create or strengthen coordinated regional and global surveillance.

In addition to better surveillance, the authors stress a need for more prudent use of antibiotics in human medicine, along with better sanitation around the world and increased use of vaccinations to prevent disease and reduce the need for antibiotic treatments.

As for animal agriculture and the food chain, the authors say major gaps exist in surveillance and data sharing related to the emergence of ABR in food-borne bacteria and its potential impact on both animal and human health. “The multi-sectoral approach needed to contain ABR includes improved integrated surveillance of ABR in bacteria carried by food-producing animals and in the food chain, and prompt sharing of data,” they say. “Integrated surveillance systems would enable comparison of data from food-producing animals, food products and humans.”

"Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine,” says Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Security. “Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating."

The full report and supporting materials are available online from WHO.