By Isabella Njeri

To combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR)- the ability of disease-causing organisms to resist medicines- the World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled the updated list of drug-resistant bacteria most threatening to human health.

The new Bacterial Priority Pathogens List (BPPL) 2024, integrates new evidence and expert insights to direct research and development efforts for new antibiotics and fosters international collaboration to spur innovation in the fight against AMR.

It categorizes 15 families of antibiotic-resistant bacteria into critical, high, and medium priority groups. Critical priority pathogens, include gram-negative bacteria resistant to last-resort antibiotics and Mycobacterium tuberculosis resistant to rifampicin, pose significant global threats due to their resistance capabilities and high burden.

High priority pathogens like Salmonella, Shigella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus present challenges in healthcare settings, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Additionally, antibiotic-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Enterococcus faecium require targeted research and interventions due to their unique public health challenges.

Medium priority pathogens, such as Group A and B Streptococci, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae, demand increased attention, particularly in vulnerable populations like children and the elderly in resource-limited settings.

“By mapping the global burden of drug-resistant bacteria and assessing their impact on public health, this list is key to guiding investment and grappling with the antibiotics pipeline and access crisis,” said Dr Yukiko Nakatani, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Antimicrobial Resistance ad interim.

“Since the first Bacterial Priority Pathogens List was released in 2017, the threat of antimicrobial resistance has intensified, eroding the efficacy of numerous antibiotics and putting many of the gains of modern medicine at risk.”

The changes between the 2017 and 2024 lists highlight how AMR is evolving, with the addition of new pathogen-antibiotic combinations and the transition of certain infections to higher priority levels.

Notably, the WHO BPPL 2024 includes critical pathogens like Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacterales, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, alongside high priority pathogens such as Salmonella Typhi, Shigella spp., and Enterococcus faecium.

These updates underscore the dynamic nature of AMR, necessitating tailored interventions to address regional variations in pathogen distribution and resistance patterns.

The WHO emphasizes the necessity of a comprehensive public health approach to address AMR, advocating for universal access to quality and affordable measures for infection prevention, diagnosis, and treatment to mitigate the impact of AMR on public health and the economy.