Tag Archives: Biology

Antibiotic resistance (ABR) – no sustainability without antibiotics

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a missing topic in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One can visualize easily terrifying consequences on mankind by not attributing this issue global attention it deserves. It threatens to undermine the effectiveness of modern medicine and with everrising number of resistant bacterial strains (WHO, 2014; CDC 2013) it could mean the undoing of much of the progress made under the MDGs. Resistance to antimicrobial drugs already causes an estimated 700 000 deaths annually and – without effective action – is predicted to cause 10 million deaths annually and cost up to US $ 100 trillion by 2050 (Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, 2014). Thus it is not only a public health issue but it is also critical to the global development progress.

The SDGs should emphasize antimicrobial resistance as a threat to global health that must be overcome. As an example, several of the planned targets in the health-dedicated goal three from the SDGs current list will be impossible to achieve without effective antimicrobials, e.g. maternal mortality ratio, newborn and under-five children mortality , communicable diseases epidemics, and a significant part of NCDs (Laxminarayan et al., 2013). Health systems will not be sustainable without effective antimicrobials, specifically antibiotics (Tomson & Vlad, 2014).

Analogies with other fundamental global concerns such as climate change can help us understand the actual scope and irreversible consequences man can face if radical action is not taken (Laxminarayan et al., 2013). The golden era of effective antibiotics is today history and the world has to deliver one holistic solution (Nathan & Cars, 2014).

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Swamping our defences: the rising tide of antibiotic resistance

Several health authorities have recently issued stark warnings that we are on the threshold of a post-antibiotic era (CMO, 2011; CDC, 2013; WHO, 2014). The loss of these antibiotic drugs would be a severe public health setback, taking
humanity back to a time when patients succumbed from infections now routinely treated. Antibiotic resistance also puts at risk key attainments of modern medicine, such as intensive care medicine, transplant surgery and chemotherapy for cancer, which are all reliant on antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant infections already exact a severe toll: an estimated 23,000 persons die from resistant bacterial infections in the United States, with associated treatment costs of US$20 billion (CDC, 2013). A high percentage of bacteria that cause common infections – such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections – show resistance in all areas of the world (WHO, 2014).

Despite the documentation of the rapid rise of resistant bacterial strains worldwide, the full extent of the problem has arguably not been fully recognized and understood by policy makers, the health establishment, and the public. To date, this emerging global healthcare crisis has received less attention than other threats, such as HIV/AIDS. Crucially, maintaining antibiotics in the arsenal of modern medicine will depend on the actions of many actors, from parents not demanding antibiotics for their children’s routine coughs, to changes in livestock raising, and re-focussing drug development.

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The promise of synthetic biology for sustainable development

The field of synthetic biology opens up the possibility of finding solutions to pressing sustainable development challenges – water, energy, food, health – but at the same time raises novel questions about appropriate regulation of new technologies.

Synthetic biology builds on the achievements and uses the techniques of genetic engineering, which involves the alteration of an organism’s genetic material using biotechnology. Synthetic biology has been defined as “the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes” (Nature). It has also been described as “the construction of customized biological systems to perform new and improved functions, through the application of principles from engineering and chemical synthesis” (ter Meulen, 2014). Synthetic biology represents the convergence of technologies from the life sciences, such as DNA recombination, with other fields like engineering, computational technology and nanotechnology (OECD, 2014).

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