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World leaders have assembled at the United Nations headquarters in New York to discuss a growing threat to public health: drug-resistant bacteria, otherwise known as superbugs.

For many years, doctors around the world have used medicines called antibiotics to prevent and treat bacterial infections. They work by killing or controlling harmful bacteria, helping patients to recover from illnesses. This has saved millions of lives, but widespread use of antibiotics has a downside. Over time, harmful bacteria evolve a resistance to antibiotic drugs, and some medicines no longer have any effect on them. This is known as antibiotic resistance, and has been described by officials as “the biggest threat to modern medicine.” Already, drug-resistant bacteria kill around 700,000 people each year, and that figure will increase unless we take action.

Experts hope that this month’s high-level meeting at the UN will improve matters. A declaration signed by each of the organisation’s 193 member states sets out three key commitments: first, governments will support the development of new antibiotics; second, they’ll introduce tighter rules for the use of existing antibiotics; and third, they’ll improve education and awareness on how to prevent drug-resistant infections.

Already, there are reasons to be hopeful. Just this year, researchers discovered a brand new antibiotic in a very unlikely place: inside a human nostril! With every country around the world now promising to work together, new weapons in the war against the superbugs could be just around the corner – or even right under our nose.

Watch the Twig film Antibiotics to learn more about this global issue.