The World Health Organization has warned that growing antimicrobial resistance is every bit as dangerous as the coronavirus pandemic -- and threatens to reverse a century of medical progress.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the issue "one of the greatest health threats of our time".
Resistance is when bugs become immune to existing drugs -- antibiotic, antiviral or antifungal treatments -- rendering minor injuries and common infections potentially deadly.
Resistance has grown in recent years due to overuse of such drugs in humans and also in farm animals.
"Antimicrobial resistance may not seem as urgent as a pandemic but it is just as dangerous," Tedros told a virtual press conference.
"It threatens to unwind a century of medical progress and leave us defenceless against infections that today can be treated easily," he said on Friday.
The WHO said antimicrobial resistance was endangering food security, economic development and the planet's ability to fight diseases.
Resistance has led to increased health care costs, hospital admissions, treatment failures, severe illnesses and deaths, the UN health agency said.
The WHO joined forces with the Food and Agriculture Organization and with the World Organisation for Animal Health to launch a new group to advocate for urgent action to combat the threat.
The One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance will bring together heads of government, company chief executives and civil society leaders.
Discovered in the 1920s, antibiotics have saved tens of millions of lives by seeing off bacterial diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and meningitis. But over the decades, bacteria have learned to fight back, building resistance to the same drugs that once reliably vanquished them -- turning into so-called "superbugs".
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said superbugs were already taking a heavy toll.
"About 700,000 people globally die each year due to antimicrobial resistance," the IFPMA said in a statement welcoming the new group.
"Without strong action to ensure appropriate use of existing antibiotics, as well as new and better treatments, that figure could rise to 10 million by 2050."