The revision of antibiotics classes by the World Health Organisation in its list of essential medicines is a welcome step in the global initiative to push back against antimicrobial resistance, the phenomenon of bacteria becoming resistant even to the most potent drugs. The updated list of 433 drugs deemed essential for addressing the most important public health needs.
With a graded approach to the use of antibiotics, under which some medicines are reserved for the most resistant microbes, the WHO list can stop their misuse as broad-spectrum treatments.
The revised WHO classification can mitigate the problem if the many issues associated with use of the drugs can be monitored and regulated.
One of the key aspects of the WHO’s guidance is the availability of a first-line ‘access’ group of antibiotics at all times. Other drugs are placed under a ‘watch’ category as second choice, or as ‘reserve’ to be deployed as a last resort.
The medical community can be sensitized to its responsibility to prevent antimicrobial resistance; it will take enlightened policies on housing, sanitation and hygiene education to prevent new infections and the spread of disease-causing organisms.
This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health need. The list is intended to spur governments to put in place policies that incentivize basic science and advanced R&D by both publicly funded agencies and the private sector.
Drug-resistant microbes pose a serious challenge today to treat.The quest for new classes of drugs goes on. An effective response demands scrupulous adherence to prescription discipline of the kind advocated by the WHO. India has severe asymmetries in the delivery of health care: rural-vs-urban and poor-vs-affluent patients.It will take good public health policies, sufficient funding and determined leadership to overcome antibiotic resistance.