WASHINGTON, D.C.: In the spring of 2015 President Obama convened a news conference where he addressed, in his words, “an issue of great importance to the public health of America and the world … [i.e.] antibiotics becoming less effective … one of the most serious public health issues we face today.”
Seated to his immediate left was DHSS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, a fellow graduate of Harvard, and also of Oxford, where she attended as a Rhodes Scholar. Together, they unfurled his National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, “a product of extraordinary work,” Obama continued, “from some of our top scientists … that covers the next five years starting right now.”
Presciently noting that “this is a problem that doesn’t always rise to the top of people’s day-to-day concerns until somebody in their family is impacted,” just last week the CDC presented us with an uncomfortable truth: An elderly woman (her name wasn’t released) in Nevada died of a bacterial infection that defeated every antibiotic in our arsenal – 26 of them in all.
Speaking about this woman’s death to Stat News, Lance Price, head of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, said “If we’re waiting for some sort of major signal that we need to attack this internationally, we need an aggressive program, both domestically and internationally to attack this problem, here’s one more signal that we need to do that.”
Here’s the thing: As of tomorrow, a new U.S. president will be sworn in. And it’s the right of every incoming administration to set their own policy and priorities. We know, for example, that they want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. However, we don’t yet know their attitude towards the problem of antibiotic resistance in general and Obama’s National Action Plan to combat it, in particular. We do know that the incoming administration has yet to appoint just 3 cabinet members, and the presidential science advisor — head of the group that developed the National Action Plan — is one of them.
Obama’s science and technology teams were filled with our best and brightest, just one reason why that community saw him as “setting the modern standard” when it came to science. Under him it was as good as it gets. And so for that reason and because it’s President Barack Obama’s final day in office he gets the last word:
“We take antibiotics for granted for a lot of illnesses that can be deadly or debilitating and we’re extraordinarily fortunate to have been living in a period where our antibiotics worked … [Antibiotic resistance] is something we have to take seriously now and invest in now. If we do, then I’m confident we’re going to be able to deal w this effectively. If we don’t, if we put this off, there’s going to be a major public health problem and it’ll be a lot harder to solve.”