Increasing resistance to antibiotics and other drugs warranted a co-ordinated global response on the same scale as efforts to address climate change, medical experts say.
In the absence of an international commitment to tackle the issue, a future scenario in which simple infections that were treatable for decades became deadly diseases, could become a reality, they warn.
Resistance to antibiotics to tackle bacterial infections and antimicrobial drugs used in the treatment of parasites, viruses and fungi was spreading fast with treatment form many infectious diseases now limited to just one or two drugs.
At an event hosted by the Royal Society in London, professor Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh and Dr Jeremy Farrar
Professor Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Jeremy Farrar, outlined their concerns which were published in a comment piece published online in the journal Nature yesterday.
The authors call for the foundation of a powerful global organisation similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for leading an international response.
"The time has come to stop re-stating the problems of antimicrobial resistance and start taking action," said Woolhouse.
"We need independent, international leadership on this issue before the massive health gains that have been made since Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin are lost forever," he added.
The growing threat of antimicrobial resistance was similar to that posed by climate change as it was a natural process aggravated by human activity and the actions of one country could have global ramifications.
The international response to this threat – caused by the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial drugs had been feeble, according to the authors.
Antibiotics defend humans against common bacterial infections, though a few cells could escape treatment by becoming persisters that allowed the infection to retrun. Scientists had now made a key discovery in understanding how a subset of bacterial cells escaped being killed by many antibiotics.
Cells became 'persisters' by entering a state in which they stopped replicating and were able to tolerate antibiotics.
According to researchers from the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection at Imperial College London, unlike antibiotic resistance, this tolerant phase was only temporary but it might contribute to the later development of resistance.