In a statement, the WHO warns of a dangerous increase in antibiotic use in some countries, but also of under-consumption in other regions, leading to the appearance of deadly bacteria.
According to Suzanne Hill, head of WHO's essential medicines unit, "overconsumption and underconsumption of antibiotics are the leading causes of antimicrobial resistance."
"Without effective antibiotics and other antimicrobials, we will lose our ability to treat generalized infections such as pneumonia," says Suzanne Hill.
The WHO report, which is based on 2015 data collected in 65 countries and regions, shows a significant difference in consumption ranging from four defined daily doses per 1,000 inhabitants per day in Burundi to over 64 in Mongolia.
"These differences indicate that some countries probably consume many antibiotics, while others may not have sufficient access to these drugs," WHO said in the statement.
Discovered in the 1920s, antibiotics saved tens of millions of lives by effectively combating bacterial diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and meningitis. But over the decades, bacteria have been modified to resist such drugs.
The World Health Organization has often warned that the world would run out of effective antibiotics and last year the UN specialized agency called on countries and large pharmaceutical groups to create a new generation of drugs capable of fighting "superbugs" ultrarresistentes.
Bacteria can become resistant when patients use antibiotics that do not need or complete the treatment, giving the bacterium the opportunity to survive and develop immunity.
But WHO is also concerned about the insufficient consumption of antibiotics. "Resistance can occur when patients can not afford the full treatment or only get access to substandard or adulterated quality medicines," according to the WHO report.
In Europe, the average consumption of antibiotics reaches 18 defined doses per 1,000 inhabitants, with Turkey leading 38 doses, almost five times more than the last country in the ranking, Azerbaijan (eight doses).
WHO recognizes, however, that its report is incomplete because it includes only four African countries, three from the Middle East and six from the Asia-Pacific region. The main absences of this study include the United States, China and India.