The Social Science of Medicine

The growing capacity of pathogens to resist antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs is turning into the greatest emerging crisis in contemporary healthcare. It is a crisis that cannot be solved by science alone.

DAVOS – When I was a medical student in the mid-1980s, I contracted malaria in Papua New Guinea. It was a miserable experience. My head ached. My temperature soared. I became anemic. But I took my medicine, and I got better. The experience wasn’t pleasant, but thanks to cheap, effective malaria drugs I was never in very much danger.

The pills that cured me, chloroquine tablets, do not work anymore. Even at the time I was taking them, the parasite that causes malaria had already become resistant to chloroquine in many parts of the world; Papua New Guinea was one of the last places where the pills continued to be effective, and even there they were losing their potency. Today, chloroquine has basically disappeared from our medical arsenal.

The growing capacity of pathogens to resist antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs is turning into the greatest emerging crisis in contemporary health care – and it is a crisis that cannot be solved by science alone.

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