This article is dedicated to my friend Jan,
who is very much alive at this moment,
but could have been not anymore.
Jan and I are friends for already quite a long time. We met each other through our wifes, who went to the Dutch civic integration college together, and had a wonderful click since then. We found each other as worthy opponents in political discussions and discussions about a zillion other topics and as people who enjoy life to the fullest, On top of that we both got children at roughly the same time...
Jan and I think differently about a lot of fundamental things and his general position is more right-wing, while mine is more left-wing in the political spectrum. Nevertheless, we appreciate each others opinions and do agree upon a lot of topics, while differing on others. And Jan is a truly honest guy, in the best Dutch tradition of: ‘a man is a man and a promise is a promise’. His word is his guarantee and that is definitely an ironclad one.
Jan is also a person who helped me out in a few awkward situations, that all had to do with me driving or parking at places where I should not have driven or parked. One phone call and Jan was there to tow me loose. With a big, ironic, yet understanding smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, softly whispering: ‘You messed up, right?!’
But at this very moment, Jan is not smiling...
Jan lies in a coma in an academic hospital in The Netherlands, after he became critically ill. And even though his prognosis has fortunately improved during the last few days, he is still anticipating a long sickbed and a long, long period of revalidation, in order to be his old friendly, helpful and politically aware self.
Apparently, his illness started relatively harmless with a simple ear inflammation, but after a few days his left hand and arm became heavily infected with an extremely dangerous, flesh-eating bacteria: allegedly a streptococcus bacteria. Then his situation – which had been underestimated by the family doctor in the first place – deteriorated very dramatically and when he was finally brought to the hospital last Tuesday, he was in critical condition.
This morning I visited him in the hospital for a short period. It was heartbreaking to see this gentle giant of a man at the intensive care department, in quite a deep coma; hooked up to a respirator and all kinds of other machines that helped him to stay alive and survive his terrible illness. In the meantime, Jan is making small steps forward, but he is still in a very serious condition and will probably be the next few days.
When Jan survives his illness – I know he will – he will owe his life to extremely strong, broad spectrum antibiotics and to the fact that this miracle medicine is still able to kill even the most dangerous bacteria species present in The Netherlands.
However, that is not so obvious as it sounds anymore...
The global emergence of various kinds of multi-resistent bacteria inside and outside hospitals is an extremely worrisome development: think for instance about the emergence of such bacteria in the open waters, that will be used during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The fact that doctors and hospitals in many countries still recklessly administer antibiotics to humans in situations when it is absolutely not necessary, or that people still don’t use this drug in accordance with the prescribed way, is very hazardous for the effectivity of these antibiotics: bacteria which receive a less than lethal portion of antibiotics, might grow resistant for it, thus changing in genuine killer bugs.
The fact that live cattle keepers/breeders and fish farms still use shedloads of preventive antibiotics, to protect their live stock against dangerous diseases in their overcrowded stables and fish farms, is even more dangerous.
Five years ago I wrote an article about the need to develop new antibiotics, in order to fight the emergence of multi-resistant bacteria, which cannot be destroyed at all by any of the current kinds of antibiotics; even in combinations. Since that article, it seemed to me that the silence from the pharmaceutical industry has been deafening...
In the meantime Big Pharma kept producing new cardialgia inhibitors, anti-cholesterol drugs, antidepressants, blood thinners, anti-diabetes drugs and other drugs that are there in order to cure, but often especially to contain (!) Western lifestyle diseases. Drugs that – as a matter of fact – I also need on a daily basis to keep my current quality of life; at least some of them: I have to admit that.
Such ‘lifestyle disease containment drugs’ are money makers for the pharmaceutical industry, as the patients in many cases have to use them for a long, long time and quite often even for life. Those pills are like a checkbook that automatically writes a big paycheck every month, for every company that produces them.
Unfortunately, new antibiotics are notoriously hard and extremely expensive to develop, while taking years and years to do so. On top of that they are probably not the real money-makers that these other lifestyle pharmaceuticals are.
The obvious result of this is that the development of new antibiotics still suffers from the stepmotherly treatment that these indispensable, life-saving pharmaceuticals get from the industry.
But the world cannot wait anymore...
In case of large scale local (or global) wars with loads of critically wounded people or large, uncontrollable outbreaks of bacterial diseases, the presence of effective antibiotics can be a matter of life and death for millions and millions of people. And the current types of antibiotics seem to lose their effectiveness at an alarming speed.
This is the reason that international governments and supranational, governmental organizations, like the EU, should run the gauntlett and actively start to push the development of new antibiotics.
Not in ten years, not in five years, but now!
The development of new and effective antibiotics is just too strategically important to leave it to the quirks of the free, international pharmacy markets. Yes, strategically important is the right expression!
This development of antibiotics is so important that governments should invest billions of dollars in it. Not in the form of warrant-free subsidies on behalf of the common pharmacy companies, but directly: in strategic, government-owned research centres, hospitals and laboratories, with the help from the best universities and the brighest scientists.
After development, these new antibiotics should not be used for widespread medication against relatively innocent human diseases, or on behalf of the cattle and fish-farming industry.
No, they should be maintained as anti-bacterial weapons of last resort, in case that all other medicine fails. It is our duty and the duty of our governments to do so and not to wait until it is too late.
Jan’s wife, his children and his next-of-kin, as well as my wife and I, all hope that Jan will open his eyes very soon and soon afterwards is able to pick up his former life again. He will probably be saved by the current generations of antibiotics.
But we must see to it that this privilege is also reserved for our children and grandchildren and their friends, in the remainder of this Century. This is a privilege that we should not abandon lightheartedly.