“Antibiotics were the only thing we ever had in all of human history that really stopped infectious diseases, and we just took this miraculous thing and just completely squandered it. It just astonishes me that we don’t ask ourselves how is it that we squandered this, and why can’t we stop.” Maryn McKenna.
Brought to the public eye in 2014, this documentary now available for live streaming on Netflix takes a unique narrative on portraying a pressing and current issue. Resistance is stringed together cleverly by repeatedly pressing the question “How have we squandered Antibiotics,” which effectively allows the exploration of multiple causes for the recent rise in antibiotic resistance such as overuse in environmental, governmental and economic decisions. By weaving facts amongst stories from families affected by this directly, and interviews with leading pharmaceutical companies, the documentary brings to light how complicated the issue is.
In 2014 The World Health Organisation named resistance to antimicrobial agents one of the most significant global threats to public health.
Ever since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928 and the subsequent development of many more antibiotics – such as sulfonamides, streptomycin, and tetracycline, – resistance has been shown to occur in all antibiotics at a mean time of 5 years later. The issue has been around since 1940.
One of the most potent messages of the documentary is our widespread misuse of these vital drugs as soon as they were available.
Penicillin resistance in gonorrhoea arose from brothels in Vietnam where United States army soldiers administered the drug to sex workers to protect themselves from venereal disease rather than treat an already existing infection.
Alexander Fleming responded to this situation in 1945, “In such cases, the thoughtless person playing with penicillin is morally responsible for the death of the man who finally succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism. I hope this evil can be averted.”
Agriculture also plays a huge role in this; the USA uses the most “low dosage” antibiotics in their livestock, endangering the world.
In Denmark, the drive to preserve antibiotics for human use only revolutionised livestock management during the 1990s and 2000s. In 1995 legislation began limiting the profits veterinarians could make from antibiotic sales. That same year Denmark became the first European country to employ a blanket ban on avoparcin – an antibiotic used to promote the growth of livestock. Although the nation is the world’s leading exporter of port, by 1999 all preventative use of antibiotics in pigs was outlawed.
In the end, even the threat of human extinction by a multi-resistant bacteria can’t hinder the system of the economy called politics. The film Resistance gives light to this creatively.
Image credit: NIAID via flickr