Could modern medicine, as we know it, be coming to an end? According to Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), absolutely.
In remarks at a recent conference on combating antimicrobial resistance, Dr. Chan highlighted the fact that as bacteria continue to build up resistance to antibiotics, common infections could become deadly and diseases that were once curable will become more difficult and more expensive to treat.
“Let me give an example of what this means for a disease of global significance,” said Dr. Chan. “Among the world’s 12 million cases of tuberculosis in 2010, WHO estimates that 650,000 involved multidrug-resistant TB strains… typically requiring two years of medication with toxic and expensive medicines…. Even with the best of care, only slightly more than 50% of these patients will be cured.”
“Prospects for turning this situation around look dim,” says Dr. Chan, noting that pharmaceutical companies lack the incentive to develop new antibiotics when gross misuse of these drugs in, for instance, food production only accelerates their eventual ineffectiveness.
“A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it.”
But despite this dire outlook, there is hope.
Beyond what Dr. Chan suggests in terms of prescribing antibiotics appropriately and only for therapeutic purposes, there’s another trend afoot that could very well reduce or even eliminate the need for antibiotics altogether.
In a study on the future of health care in America prepared for The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2003, updated 2010), it’s predicted that, “Over the next decade, our view of health will be expanded to encompass mental, social, and spiritual well being.” This reflects a growing acknowledgement by researchers and medical professionals alike of the direct link between spirituality and health. But even more significant is the number of people who are already turning to spiritual forms of care – and seeing results.
Like my friend, Marivic.
Years ago, Marivic was diagnosed with a latent tuberculosis infection and prescribed antibiotics. She became sick, lost a lot of weight, and began losing her hair. In search of a different approach to dealing with the disease, she soon found herself attending church where she discovered that it was possible to treat her condition solely through spiritual means. Three years later, she was required to take another TB test and was found to be completely free of the infection.
There are many others, of course, besides Marivic relying on spiritual means in whole or in part to maintain their health. And while their methods are by no means uniform and the results not always medically verified, there seems to be enough evidence to warrant further experimentation and study.
Exactly what impact this might have on the use of antibiotics remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that a shift is taking place in terms of the world’s approach to health from a strictly biomedical model to one that takes into consideration other factors, including spirituality.
Perhaps, then, the end of modern medicine – and the advent of a more holistic approach to health – will turn out to be a very good thing.