World health leaders adopted a plan Monday addressing the rising global problem of antimicrobial resistance, as well as efforts toward improving access to vaccines for developing countries.
Member nations at the 68th session of the World Health Organization's World Health Assembly in Geneva unanimously agreed on a resolution urging countries to implement individual national action plans (PDF) to improve awareness about antimicrobial resistance, strengthen research and development of new antibiotics, and reduce the overuse of existing antibiotics drugs to ensure they remain effective.
The WHO's resolution urges member states to have a plan in place by May 2017 that addresses the use of antibiotic medicine in humans and animal agriculture, where it has been used to stave off infection in livestock as well as to promote greater meat production.
One objective in the action plan focuses on prevention of the types of infections that could heighten the risk for a pathogen to become resistant. Some of the recommendations detailed in the report call for improving hygiene and control practices within healthcare facilities, and promoting vaccination in nations where immunization levels are low.
Part of those efforts will call upon the WHO to coordinate with low-income countries to improve access and the affordability of vaccines.
The WHO's report calls antimicrobial resistance "a problem so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine."
Antibiotics are considered a bad investment by drugmakers because they are taken for a short amount of time and are relatively cheap.
A recent report by a leading economist proposed giving "lump sum" payments to pharmaceutical companies. He also called for a global fund of $2 billion to jump-start innovation over the next five years.
The WHO's initiative unveiled as a part of the Assembly is somewhat overshadowed by the WHO's announcement on Saturday of sweeping changes to its emergency response efforts in light of its actions during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Critics cite the organization's initial slow and insufficient response for contributing to the high number of infected cases and deaths that occurred, making it the worst outbreak of the virus recorded. As of May 17, there were more than 26,000 infected cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with more than 11,000 deaths.
Some of the reforms the organization plans to implement include setting up a $100 million contingency fund to provide financing for in-field operations for up to three months, and the creation of rapid response teams for quick deployment to health emergencies around the world.