series event

Resistance – a story of antibiotics, bacteria, and public health in Britain (1935-1998)

(Co-hosted  with the Antimicrobial Resistance Centre)

Claas Kirchhelle 
(University of Oxford)

Rising bacterial resistance against antibiotics is one of the most pressing health issues of the 21st century. Decision makers at the international, transnational, and national levels all agree that antibiotic use has to be reformed and resistance reduced. However, there remains considerable disagreement about how to do so. In Britain, the question of how to use and regulate antimicrobials has a long history. Between the mid-1930s and 2015, British doctors, veterinarians, farmers, and patients consistently increased their consumption of antibiotics. From the beginning, this increasing use of antibiotics was contested.

Following the establishment of a sophisticated bacteriological surveillance network and the introduction of a new technology called phage-typing around 1940, British public health experts played a pioneering role both in mapping the spread of bacterial resistance against new generations of wonder drugs and in formulating policy responses to the problem. Sometimes their recommendations were successful, at other times they failed to gain public, professional, and political support. This presentation will trace the story of antibiotics and the struggles about their regulation in Britain from the 1930s onwards.