By Adeyemi Sylvester


Antibiotics were the wonder drugs of the 20th century because of their  ability to kill and inhibit bacterial growth. In the pre-antibiotic era, the treatment of infectious diseases in human and animals was almost impossible. Besides the use of herbal medicines, there was no way out of the death sentence. That was until 1928, which  marked the beginning of  the antibiotic era when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin from the mold penicillium. After this breakthrough in medicine, came the emergence of antibiotics.

Resistance to antibiotics could either be natural due to inherent characteristics or acquired when  bacteria undergo evolutionary changes that transform their cells. These changes that lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics are caused by both bacterial and human factors.


Primary causes of antibiotic resistance include wrong dosage, inappropriate prescription, inaccurate regimen, mechanical ventilation, multiple underlying diseases, poor hand hygiene.

In animals, antibiotics are used at subtherapeutic doses to promote growth. At subtherapeutic doses, bacterial population develops resistant strains. In research studies resistant bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans in three ways: by consuming animal products (milk, etc.) from close or direct contact with animals or other humans, or through the environment. In the first pathway, food preservation methods can help eliminate, decrease, or prevent the growth of bacteria in some food classes.


The pharma sector undoubtedly plays a vital role in developing newer medicines as resistance emerge. Since 1945, newer antibiotic were being discovered to compete with the evolving bacterial population. According to an article published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in January 2009, only 5 of the biggest pharma companies –GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Merck and Pfizer still had antibacterial discovery programmes in 2008. This is because of the commercial impact it has on the companies. The return on investment is poor and treatment of bacterial infection is usually short course regimen so patronage begins to reduce as soon as the infection is cured. That’s why companies have stopped developing antibiotics.

However, the launch of every antibiotic has been and will be followed by resistance in the targeted bacteria. Therefore, there is a constant need to develop new agents to keep up with the acquisition of resistance among pathogenic bacteria.

As a way to encourage drug-development, private-public partnership should be embraced to curtail financial burden of obtaining newer antibiotics.



There have been increasing public calls for global collective action to address the threat. In 2014 WHO released preventive strategies to tackle resistance

The public can help tackle resistance by:

  • Using antibiotics only when prescribed by a health professional
  • Completing the full prescription, even if they feel better
  • Never sharing antibiotics with others or using leftover prescriptions

Health workers, including pharmacists, can help tackle the resistance issues by:

  • Enhancing infection prevention and control
  • Only prescribing and dispensing antibiotics when they are truly needed
  • Prescribing and dispensing the right antibiotic(s) to treat the illness

Policymakers and industries can help tackle the resistance by:

  • Strengthening resistance tracking and laboratory capacity
  • Regulating and promoting appropriate use of medicines
  • Fostering innovation and research and development of new tools
  • Promoting cooperation and information sharing among all stakeholders

On March 27, 2015, the White House released a comprehensive plan to address the increasing need for agencies to combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Action Plan was developed around five goals with focus on strengthening health care, public health, veterinary medicine, agriculture, food safety and research, and manufacturing. These goals, as listed by the White House, are as follows:

  • Slow down the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections
  • Strengthen national One-Health surveillance efforts to combat resistance
  • Advanced development and use of rapid and innovative diagnostic tests for the identification and characterization of resistant bacteria
  • Accelerate basic and applied research and development for new antibiotics, other therapeutics, and vaccines
  • Improve international collaboration and capacities for antibiotic resistance prevention, surveillance, control and antibiotic research and development

The following are goals set to meet by 2020.

In 2015, WHO started the World Antibiotic Awareness week from 16–22 November to improve global awareness, promote rational use, and prevent further instances of resistance.

On 22nd September 2016, at the UN Meeting, collaboration between approximately 70 heads of state and ministers of health and foreign affairs demonstrated overwhelming political support to combat AMR. After the meeting, UN  decided to focus on rectifying the startling level of under-investment in AMR-related research; and a major new commitment by 13 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, including giants of the generics industry, to take concrete actions to reduce the development and spread of drug resistance.

Mr. Sylvester a recent pharmacy graduate of Igbinedion University Okada, Nigeria.

[email protected]


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