Last week, we were in New York City, where the United Nations General Assembly spent an entire day discussing antibiotic resistance, “the biggest threat to modern medicine.” Experts estimate that more than 700,000 people worldwide die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year, including 23,000 in the United States—a number that could grow to 10 million globally by 2050.

Prior to the meeting, we delivered a letter to the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations signed by leaders in the medical and public health community, like Dr. Anthony So of ReAct-Action and Dr. Lance Price, Director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. The letter urges them to push for international action to stop the misuse of antibiotics on livestock and poultry. On the day of, our staff and volunteers staged an event outside the UN, passing out educational literature to hundreds of people, mostly delegates entering the building.

Staff and volunteers distribute literature to UN delegates, including champions on the issue from the Dutch delegation (bottom left). Photos: Austin Donohue.

On Wednesday, the General Assembly passed a declaration requiring countries to make two-year plans to take action to keep antibiotics working. Previously, the U.N. has only met on a handful of health issues, such as HIV and Ebola, so this historical declaration lays the groundwork for major, coordinated global action.

This follows a year of unprecedented public attention on antibiotic resistance, as our successful campaigns calling on McDonald’s and Subway to take action to combat antibiotic overuse have spurred other change in the marketplace. Tyson, one of the nation’s largest producers of chicken, committed to ending antibiotic overuse in its entire operation, and other restaurants such as Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut have followed suit. Dr. Anthony So points to our efforts when working with international decision makers to show that the tide is shifting and they should get on board now.

These marketplace actions are changing the industry in the U.S. and laying the groundwork for change on a global scale.