Churchill waving on VE Day 1945

From Fighting for Freedom to Fighting Drug-Resistance to Save Modern Medicine – Part Two

Colin Garner Coronavirus COVID-19, Learn more

Volunteer Vicki Joughin, Antibiotic Research UK’s marketing and media consultant wrote in her last article reflecting on the 75th Anniversary of VE Day. She explained the importance of penicillin in the fight for freedom and the part it played in helping the Allied Forces achieve victory in Europe. Read it here.

Today Vicki focuses on the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the impact it is having on “Modern Medicine”. She discusses antibiotics and coronavirus, and the importance of keeping antibiotics working during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Currently, we find ourselves in another global war and this time an invisible one as we battle the coronavirus pandemic. Yet again we have seen remarkable collaboration between scientists globally as they research this new virus (coronavirus) and the disease it causes (COVID-19). Whilst we race against time to find a vaccine and COVID-19 treatments in many countries, scientists are sharing information and governments are collaborating with the pharmaceutical industry to provide a not-for-profit solution. Once again, the focus of these collaborations are on the healthcare solution, rather than the economic impact. In the meantime, many have lost their lives before their time, not only due to the coronavirus itself but also because it opens to the door to opportunistic or secondary bacterial infections which may be fatal if not treated with effective antibiotics.

However, drug-resistant infections are cited by the WHO as one of the biggest threats to global health today, estimating 700,000 annual global deaths, rising to 10 million by 2050. In the post war era, antibiotics have revolutionised the field of medicine. They enabled successful treatments such as chemotherapy for cancer patients and making routine surgery a safer option e.g. caesarean sections and joint replacement surgery. The healthcare treatments that we know and have been used to accessing, are often referred to as “Modern Medicine”.

Canon David Staples shared his memories of the healthcare system during the war years: “The healthcare system was very different then. When you had an illness you spent long periods in bed, sweating it out as healthcare was not free and many could not afford access to the medical men who often worked as one man bands from wooden sheds in their back gardens.” WW2 soldier at an army camp

Today “Modern Medicine” as we know it is taken for granted. The current pandemic has shown us how much we rely on our National Health Service, which is free for everyone at point of care. In the war years, this was not the case as Canon David Staples recalls: “I knew children at school whose parents couldn’t afford a doctor and relied on an unqualified “grandmother” who lived up the street who had convinced everyone (including herself) that she was the font of all knowledge!” 

In this current crisis, many of the treatments we have become so used to are unavailable due to the high risks to these patients of contracting COVID-19. May staff have been diverted from their specialist duties to the “frontline”. There have been many examples in the news of patient dissatisfaction due to the suspension of “Modern Medicine”, but little thought has been given to the impact of drug-resistant infections caused by antibiotic resistance on the future of “Modern Medicine”. There is now evidence that 15% of deaths in Wuhan were due to opportunistic or secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not kill viruses but they should be effective against bacterial infections. Yet, the global public health crisis of drug- resistant infections has not yet been recognised as being worthy of not-for-profit collaborations such as the WWII Penicillin Project or the current coronavirus projects. Antibiotics and coronavirus research is just as important to continued global health as the penicillin project.

Research into new treatments for drug-resistant infections is critical to the future of “Modern Medicine”. Antibiotic Research UK is a respected medical research charity currently funding a significant number of research projects to combat drug-resistant infections. You can read more about our research successes to date here.

So here at Antibiotic Research UK we are working hard to overcome and prevent deaths from drug-resistant infections. Together we can close the door on COVID-19 opportunistic infections and keep antibiotics working to save Modern Medicine. Please support us in our fight and DONATE to help us fund our research.


WHO – accessed 01052020

Lord Jim O’Neill, Antimicrobial Resistance: tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations (2014)

Zhou et al (2020) Clinical course and risk factors for mortality of adult inpatients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: a retrospective cohort study. Lancet, 395, 1054 – 1062