The World Health Organization, WHO, on Monday warned that increased use of antibiotics in the treatment of COVID-19 patients will strengthen bacterial resistance and ultimately lead to more deaths during the crisis and beyond.
The Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said a number of bacterial infections were becoming increasingly resistant to the medicines that were traditionally used to treat them.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased use of antibiotics, which ultimately will lead to higher bacterial resistance rates that will impact the burden of disease and deaths during the pandemic and beyond,” Tedros told a virtual press conference from the WHO’s Geneva headquarters.
AFP reports that WHO has issued guidance to medics not to provide antibiotic therapy or prophylaxis to patients with mild COVID-19, or to patients with moderate illness without a clinical suspicion of bacterial infection.
The DG of the health organisation maintains that the guidelines should help tackle antimicrobial resistance while saving lives.
Tedros who called the threat of antimicrobial resistance “one of the most urgent challenges of our time”, said only a small proportion of COVID-19 patients needed antibiotics to treat subsequent bacterial infections.
Highlighting inappropriate usage, he said there was an “overuse” of antibiotics in some countries, while in low-income states, such life-saving medicines were unavailable, “leading to needless suffering and death”.
Meanwhile, the WHO said the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) had been severely disrupted since the COVID-19 pandemic began in December, following a survey of 155 countries.
“This situation is of significant concern because people living with NCDs are at higher risk of severe COVID-19-related illness and death,” it said.
The survey, during a three-week period in May, found that low-income countries were most affected.
The most common reasons for discontinuing or reducing services were cancellations of planned treatments, a decrease in available public transport, and a lack of staff because health workers had been reassigned to COVID-19 treatment.