Increased antibiotics use in combating the COVID-19 pandemic will strengthen bacterial resistance and ultimately lead to more deaths during the crisis and beyond, the World Health Organization said Monday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the world is “losing its ability” to use critically important antimicrobial medicines.

He said a “worrying number” of bacterial infections were becoming increasingly resistant to the medicines traditionally used to treat them.

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the WHO chief said that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased use of antibiotics, which ultimately will lead to higher bacterial resistance rates.

Calling the threat of antimicrobial resistance “one of the most urgent challenges of our time,” Tedros urged the world to find new models to incentivise sustainable innovation in this regard.

“On the supply side, there is essentially very little market incentive to developing new antibiotics and antimicrobial agents, which has led to multiple market failures of very promising tools in the past few years,” he said.

A press release issued on Monday also showed that high rates of resistance among antimicrobials frequently used to treat common infections, such as urinary tract infections or some forms of diarrhea, indicate that the world is running out of effective ways to tackle these diseases.

“For instance, the rate of resistance to ciprofloxacin, an antimicrobial frequently used to treat urinary tract infections, varied from 8.4 per cent to 92.9 per cent in 33 reporting countries,” the press release noted.