20 June 2017

WHO steps up efforts to combat resistance

Drugs Global Health

Experts at the World Health Organisation have grouped antibiotics into three categories, “access”, “watch” and “observe” in an effort to hold onto the last weapons in the fight against superbugs.

This major revision to the Essential Medicines List backs up the WHO’s action plan against antimicrobial resistance, which provides guidance on which drugs to use for common infections and which to save for more serious infections.

“The rise in antibiotic resistance stems from how we are using – and misusing – these medicines,” Dr Suzanne Hill, Director of Essential Medicines and Health Products, said.

“The new WHO list should help health-system planners and prescribers ensure people who need antibiotics have access to them, and ensure they get the right one, so that the problem of resistance doesn’t get worse.”

“Access” antibiotics, which includes amoxicillin, are to be used widely for common infections such as pneumonia. Use of antibiotics in the “watch” group, such as ciprofloxacin, should be dramatically reduced and only used as first- or second-line treatments for a limited range of infections.

Antibiotics such as colistin, and some cephalosporins, are in the “reserve” group, meaning they should only be used for the most severe infections when all alternatives have failed.

This third group should be considered a last resort, used only in situations such as life-threatening infections due to superbugs, the WHO statement said.