Interview with Dr Siouxsie Wiles, Microbiologist
We are running out of medicines to treat these microbes, they are becoming resistant to the medicines that we normally use to treat them so bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, viruses are becoming resistant to the antiviral drugs that we use. Ever since we’ve been using these medicines the microbes have become resistant to them, but we’ve always had other options, other treatments available, the problem is now that the shelf is empty, the cupboards are bare, there are no more medicines to treat some of these agents, and that means that they are essentially becoming untreatable. We should be really concerned. At the moment very small numbers of people are dying from these resistant microbes but it’s predicted that by 2050 more than ten million people will be dying a year around the world, and that’s more than cancer.
In New Zealand we are as vulnerable as the rest of the world. We have higher rates of many infectious diseases than countries like the USA, UK and Australia and a growing number of those organisms are becoming resistant to our medicines. Here in New Zealand we travel a lot, so every time we travel overseas whether it’s for holiday or for trade and business we have the opportunity to bring resistant organisms back into New Zealand but we are also breeding them here ourselves by the way that we use and abuse antibiotics, especially.
In New Zealand we have lots and lots of researchers who are trying to address this problem, we’ve got researchers trying to develop new vaccines, others of us are trying to develop new antibiotics and antivirals. Also the Ministry for Health and the Ministry for Primary Industries are working on a national action plan to develop wiser ways that we can use these amazing medicines. In reality that action plan can only really delay and reduce the severity of what’s going to happen with infectious diseases and resistance here. It’s really bleak, it’s really, really serious, it’s up there with climate change and global war, really, for how it’s going to affect us.
There are things we can do on an individual basis. Things like making sure that you wash your hands properly and dry them properly so that you don’t spread infectious diseases, and also making sure that you only take these medicines when prescribed, in the way that the doctor prescribes them, and that you don’t demand them either for yourselves or your pets.