Gonorrhoea is becoming harder to treat due to antibiotic resistance and there is a need for better prevention and treatment of the disease that infects an estimated 78 million people each year.
The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart. Every time doctors use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.
Data from 77 countries show that “antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhoea – a common sexually-transmitted infection – much harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat.
WHO noted that the current “last-resort treatment” in the form of extended-spectrum cephalosporins (ECS) has now shown resistance in more than 50 countries. As a result, the agency issued updated global treatment recommendations in 2016, advising doctors to give 2 antibiotics: ceftriaxone and azithromycin.
With regard to development of a new antibiotic for gonorrhoea, only three candidate drugs are currently in the research-and-development pipeline.
The treatments are taken only for short periods of time, unlike medicines for chronic diseases, and they become less effective as resistance develops, meaning that the supply of new drugs constantly needs to be replenished.
Gonorrhoea can be prevented through safer sexual behaviour. WHO pointed to decreasing condom use, increased urbanization and travel, poor infection detection rates, and inadequate or failed treatment for the estimated 78 million people infected each year.
Women are particularly at risk, potentially leading to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as increased risk of HIV.
Earlier this year, WHO announced that it is classifying antibiotics into three categories – Access, Watch and Reserve – to preserve the effectiveness of “last resort” antibiotics.