According to a CDC report released earlier this month, a wave of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis in South Africa has ushered in “the post-antibiotic era.” For a country that ranks third in the world for TB cases, antibiotic-resistant strains are no trivial matter.
Of additional concern to global health workers is that these resistant strains spread successfully in South Africa, one of the most developed countries on the continent – if TB can’t be stopped in a country where a large fraction of the population has access to quality healthcare, how can they be stopped in countries where quality healthcare is almost unheard of?
That’s a question the global health community has been grappling with for years, as antibiotic resistance is by no means new to Africa. In 2002, Central African Republic, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Uganda and Zimbabwe were home to TB strains that were resistant to at least one antibacterial drug. Four of these countries also harbored strains that resisted four antibacterial drugs, and all seven countries are considered low-income. South Africa, having held out for years despite bordering both Lesotho and Zimbabwe, is an upper-middle income country.
Because bacteria-related deaths are so common in Africa, antibiotic-resistant strains are a very serious global health issue. According to the World Health Organization, infectious diseases – much of which is caused by bacteria – accounted for 45 percent of all deaths in Africa in 2000. Although successful health interventions on the continent have dropped that figure in the nearly 15 years since, the steady rise of antibiotic resistance may send it soaring back to previous rates.
Healthcare is considered one of the most effective ways to fight against poverty. Installing healthcare systems in countries that lack effective ones not only creates jobs but also improves the public’s quality of life , giving citizens the freedom to seek employment. Any challenge to improving healthcare is also a challenge to eliminating poverty in the developing world. In the post-antibiotic era, healthcare must be a top priority.
– Elise L. Riley