Technological advances give us new, invaluable tools to expand scientific knowledge and make significant progress in medical research, treatment and the improvement of lives. However, the high cost of drug development, coupled with the slowing impact of certain modern therapies has led to an increase in life-threatening diseases. The obesity epidemic, ever-increasing life expectancy and antibiotic resistance may limit the future development of treatments and preventative cures.

The challenges of scientific progress

The frequent overuse of life-saving antibiotics, which are often too readily prescribed for common illnesses, has led to the rapid development of drug-resistant superbugs, as well as the increasing difficulty in treating certain infections. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2016, 6 out of 17 million prescriptions given for sinus infections in the US were unnecessary. Patients with viral infections, such as colds and coughs, are wrongly led to believe that antibiotics provide a ‘quick-fix’ cure. Use of antibiotics could have a profoundly negative impact on our future ability to control disease. This is evident in the 5,000 deaths in England each year due to ineffective antibiotics, as estimated by Public Health England. This figure is set to rise, with experts predicting that in just thirty years, antibiotic resistance will kill more people worldwide than cancer and diabetes combined. Public Health England predicts that routine medical procedures, such as caesarean sections and hip replacements, may eventually become too risky, potentially reversing groundbreaking advances in medical science.

Sharing responsibility through patient-focused healthcare

The future progress of science is not just the responsibility of world leaders, public healthcare advisors and scientists. This crisis has fundamentally been caused by a deeply ingrained, cultural over-dependence on medication. Tackling antibiotic resistance requires patient understanding of their personal antibiotic usage. Patients should feel empowered by their own medical decisions.

Patient-centered healthcare could be encouraged by developing inclusive policies that advance scientific awareness and educate or inform a more diverse public audience about important ‘health-preserving’ issues, such as disease prevention and the cautious use of antibiotics. These basic topics should be introduced at the early stages of primary education, where hygiene practices can be closely supervised.

Globally, we could also reach a better public understanding of the appropriateness of medication versus self-care methods of natural healing. Increasing knowledge of the average duration of a cold or flu would encourage people to wait for symptoms to pass naturally, instead of taking unnecessary medical prescriptions.

A recent survey conducted by the Human Health Project on treatments available for migraine headaches shows that massage is the most highly rated (66.6%) alternative treatment before medication. The results of a further survey reveal that 32.6% of those surveyed felt that massage made their condition ‘much better’, and 34% saw their condition slightly improve. These findings reveal that alternative treatments may be just as a successful in reducing migraine symptoms as medical forms of treatment.

New healthcare schemes

Innovative public awareness programmes, interactive art exhibits, talks and online resources could also be introduced to encourage people of all ages across the globe to critically engage with common health misconceptions about drug-resistant infections. The media could support these new schemes by encouraging the public, as well as global leaders to take active responsibility in preventing and treating infectious diseases. Unified, international action is essential to overcoming antibiotic resistance and moving towards a more stable society, in which scientific advances can achieve maximum, positive impact.