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Rachel Nugent Drug resistance, a neglected but increasingly urgent problem, receives some much-needed attention this week as the focus of this year’s World Health Day, also dubbed Antimicrobial Resistance Day, on Thursday, April 7. I invited Rachel Nugent, lead author of The Race Against Drug Resistance, a CGD working group report, for a progress report on efforts to address this problem since the report was released last June.

We begin with some scary stuff—the continued emergence of “superbugs” that doctors don’t like to talk about, such as hospital-bred pathogens that have become immune to antibiotics, drug resistant malaria, and my favorite nightmare, drug resistant TB, which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates could infect two million people around the globe by 2015.

Rachel says that despite these threats, drug resistance is easy to overlook.

“When you see and feel an emergency, you respond to it,” she explains. “Unfortunately, drug resistance tends to be invisible, so it’s been hard to come up with a coherent response.”

Rachel says the WHO is renewing its focus on drug resistance, perhaps prodded in part by the CGD report and by the continued rise in the number of untreatable infections worldwide.

We discuss the report’s four key recommendations, and the signs (or lack!) of progress on each:

  • Tracking resistance in real time
  • Securing the supply chain
  • Strengthening regulation
  • Accelerating R&D of new medicines

At the end of the interview we switch topics. I ask Rachel for a sneak preview of the main recommendation in a forthcoming CGD working group report on the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Rachel lets the cat out of the bag: the report, she says, urges the UNFPA’s recently appointed director, Babatunde Osotimehin, to make universal access to reproductive health and family planning the agency’s top priority. Yikes! “Isn’t this already the case?” I ask.

Rachel responds that the agency has pursued a wide range of issues related to the well-being of girls and women. “Things like gender-based violence and female genital cutting are important issues,” she says. “But it’s our suggestion that UNFPA would be more successful if it focused its attention on its central mission and relied more on other UN agencies to cover these other issues.”

Listen to the Wonkcast to hear the full interview. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.

A special thanks to Lee Crawfurd (a.k.a. @rovingbandit) and Tom Murphy (a.k.a. @viewfromthecave) for Tweeting their enthusiasm for the Global Prosperity Wonkcast! I begin the show with a shout out to these faithful end enthusiastic listeners. Who’s next?)

And finally, my thanks to Will McKitterick for his production assistance on the Wonkcast and for his help in drafting this blog post.