The world is heading towards a “post-antibiotic” era, in which common infections will no longer have a cure, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

In an urgent statement to the health industry and patients, the WHO said that generations of drugs are under threat as microorganisms are becoming increasingly resistant to them.

WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said, “The message is loud and clear. The world is on the brink of losing miracle cures.”

Last year, at least 440,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis were detected and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis has been reported in 69 countries to date.

The malaria parasite is acquiring resistance to even the latest generation of medicines, as is HIV.

With each new generation, the microorganism carrying the resistant gene becomes ever more dominant until the drug is completely ineffective.

According to WHO, inappropriate use of infection-fighting drugs (underuse, overuse or misuse) causes resistance to emerge faster.

This week, the WHO will publish a policy package that sets out the measures governments and their national partners need to combat drug resistance.

The policy steps recommended by WHO include developing and implementing a financed national plan; strengthening surveillance and laboratory capacity; ensuring uninterrupted access to essential medicines of assured quality; and regulating and promote rational use of medicines.

Dr Chan added, “The trends are clear and ominous. No action today means no cure tomorrow. At a time of multiple calamities in the world, we cannot allow the loss of essential medicines – essential cures for many millions of people – to become the next global crisis.”