The world must take action against the spread of drug-resistant bacteria that pose as serious a threat to future generations as climate change and water shortages, the science minister David Willetts has warned.
Fears that the overuse of antibiotics by doctors and in agriculture will lead to soaring rates of potentially lethal infections, untreatable with existing drugs, will be raised with G8 leaders meeting in Belfast this week.
Mr Willetts will urge far-reaching measures that would clamp down on excessive use of antibiotics, while seeking investment for the discovery and delivery of new drugs and improved international collaboration on disease-monitoring.
“Across the G8 we should regard the spread of antibiotic resistance as a global challenge that is up there with climate change, water stress and environmental damage, and there are genuine policy consequences that follow from that,” Mr Willetts told the Guardian.
Increasingly drug resistant strains of TB and E coli have been observed by doctors in Britain, while 80 per cent of gonorrhoea is now resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline, with specialists warning that the infection could become untreatable.
Mr Willetts has asked England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, to brief the G8 meeting. In March she warned that untreatable infections represented a “catastrophic threat” and should rank alongside terrorism and climate change on the list of critical risks to the nation.