Some of leading medical experts have warned of an impending “post-antibiotic apocalypse” at a conference in Berlin recently.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies was among those who told global health experts that world leaders must vastly improve their response to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

During a break at the conference, Davies said: “If the growth of superbugs continues, it spells the death of modern medicine, a post antibiotic apocalypse.”

Antibiotics losing their effectiveness would prevent the ability to fight some of the most common infections, while surgery such as caesarean sections and cancer treatments would become increasingly hazardous.

“Not only do we need antibiotics in daily life for bacterial infections, but actually a lot of people are prone to infections through their treatments, their cancer treatments, their transplantation. There are patients with diabetes who are more prone to infections,” said Davies.

The over-prescription of antibiotics, sometimes to patients with viruses which can’t be treated with antibiotics, is causing global resistance, along with its prevalence in the livestock industry.

Ed Whiting, director of policy at the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London, said 85 per cent of countries have begun putting together national action plans, but with little result.

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“Of those 85 per cent only five per cent of countries have financed their plan and turned it into programmes of action.

“That’s not good enough. We need to see tangible work to make sure that we only give antibiotics to people who really need them. We need to think about the science of resistance as well and understanding how resistance can spread,” said Whiting.

He added: “You have antibiotics through waste, particularly in the environment, antibiotic use in the food chain, and antibiotic use in humans. We know too much of that is bad across all three but we don’t know how they all work together and we need to understand that better and find responses to stop this problem.”

Lord O’ Neill, former chair of the British review on antimicrobial resistance, said giving doctors greater access to new technology, such as phone apps that can diagnose conditions.

“Our lives are dominated by mobile telephones. It seems remarkable that the technology that relates to that isn’t used in medical practice. We pressurise doctors to guess what’s wrong with us, and it’s easier for them to prescribe antibiotics.”

He added: “Introducing state of the art into diagnostics is probably the single most powerful thing that could be a game changer, in my view.”

At the conference, the British government announced a new project to map the spread of death and disease caused by drug-resistant superbugs.

Currently around 700,000 people globally die every year from drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. Without tough action, conference organisers warn that number will rise to 10 million people a year by 2050. – Reuters