Leaders: Drug threat warning stark but necessary

The prime minister spoke of the need for urgent action to tackle the growing threat of resistance to antibiotics. Picture: PA
The prime minister spoke of the need for urgent action to tackle the growing threat of resistance to antibiotics. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

THE Prime Minister’s vision bordered on the apocalyptic. The world, David Cameron said yesterday, could soon be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” unless urgent action is taken to tackle the growing threat of resistance to antibiotics.

The PM’s words came as something of a jolt. Surely, most of us assume, medical progress involves relentless, unchangeable, improvement and, in the most successful cases, the complete eradication of certain illnesses?

Perhaps the most significant victory in the battle against deadly diseases was the discovery of penicillin and the development, thereafter, of antibiotics that are used to clear up quickly illnesses which, just a few generations ago, were commonly fatal.

It is difficult to comprehend that nature – in the form of dangerous bacteria – is effectively fighting back against that medical breakthrough. But that is ­precisely what is happening.

Mr Cameron said that government scientific advisers were of the opinion that resistance to antibiotics was one of the most serious health problems facing the world. The PM described a – for most of us – familiar world where infections and illness can be quickly remedied by a trip to the GP and a course of tablets.

But, Mr Cameron warned, this reassuring scenario is at risk as never before from a “very real and worrying threat”. Anti­biotics, which could once be depended upon to clear up infection quickly, are less effective as the bacteria they are supposed to kill become immune to them. And medical experts warn that there have been no new significant classes of antibiotics created since the late 1980s. The picture that emerges is one of drug companies and governments having ­become complacent.

So Mr Cameron’s intervention is welcome. So, too, is his decision to raise this matter with US President Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel. Funding from the Wellcome Trust charity will support an international expert group to look at how governments might fund the production of rarely used anti­biotics. The group will also consider how poorer nations might be encouraged to improve control of existing antibiotics.

The expert group has a complex task ahead. Its members will have to find a way of meeting the needs of the growing numbers of patients for whom existing antibiotics may be less effective while satisfying the – not always altruistic – demands of drug companies which, until a tipping point is reached where their products are ineffective more often than not, might have little motivation to invest heavily in redeveloping treatments for everyday illnesses.

This warning about the danger of resistance to antibiotics is stark but necessary. This is an issue to which too little attention has been paid. Not so many years ago, illnesses that might now be shrugged off quickly were often fatal. It is unthinkable that we should be risking a return to those days.

Salute to Andy Murray: a true hero

AFTER an astonishing first week at Wimbledon, Andy Murray looked to be on course to retain his title.

He cut a swathe through to the quarter finals without losing a set and, after Rafa Nadal was knocked out on Tuesday, ­Murray’s chances of a second championship victory in succession improved dramatically.

But just as we dared to imagine celebrating, the Scotsman’s tournament came crashing to a end. Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov yesterday outplayed Murray to defeat him in straight sets.

There will be those who use yesterday’s result to warn that Murray’s best days are behind him. But our faith is stronger.

Murray played some of the very best, most consistent tennis of his career throughout the early stages of this year’s Wimbledon. This, he did, just months after ­serious back surgery.

In truth, it is quite remarkable that Murray was fit enough to proceed as far as he did in the competition.

And what pleasure he gave us while he played.

Murray is more than just a ­tennis player, he’s a bona fide national hero: a Scot who truly excels at what he does. Following his progress through tournaments – Wimbledon, especially –unites Scots. He is ours and we are rightly proud of him.

And we have faith, too. Faith that Murray will come back fighting, just as he always has done.

In the early days of his career, many wondered if Murray would ever win a major title. We like to wonder, now, when he’ll win his next. Let’s not doubt that he will triumph again.

Andy Murray OBE, Olympic gold medal holder and – until Sunday – reigning Wimbledon champion, we salute you.