The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that antimicrobial resistance ‘is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society’.

On the 9th of November, the Science Museum, London opened the free special exhibition, Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives. The exhibition explores antimicrobial resistance (focusing specifically on antibiotic resistance) and its cause, progression, and the response from different parts of society.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms change to become resistant to drugs that they are exposed to, meaning the drugs become ineffective at preventing and treating infections. These ‘superbugs’ are spreading globally, and there is not just one cause.

One of the causes is the unnecessary use of antibiotics to treat viral infections. In the UK, 9 out of 10 general practitioners feel pressured by patients to prescribe antibiotics, and this contributes to up to 10 million unnecessary prescriptions each year. Many people in the UK do not know that antibiotics do not treat viruses, and so the NHS is trying to raise awareness about when they are really needed.

The exhibition displayed the works of several campaigns to educate people on when to and when not to use antibiotics. One campaign included was European Antibiotic Awareness Day, which was held on the 18 November to make people aware of this major threat to global public health. Another was the ‘Red Line’ campaign in India, that aims to warn illiterate people that certain drugs should not be taken without the advice of a doctor or pharmacist. The boxes of medication are branded with a red line that alerts people to this.

Superbugs included interactive games, such as one that enables visitors to explore bacteria in a virtual Petri dish, and another that challenges visitors to try to tackle the challenge of the spreading ‘superbugs’ by placing health campaigns, diagnosis technology and new antibiotics in certain places in the world.

Luna Ortiz, visitor to Superbugs, commented: “I was quite shocked that the problem is as severe as this exhibition shows. It has made me really think about the possible future problems concerning the use of antibiotics.”

Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives is open until Spring 2019, at the Science Museum London, on Level 0, Tomorrow’s World.

Carrie Wyncoll, Sydenham High School