The World Health Assembly endorsed a global action plan Monday to address climbing rates of antimicrobial resistance, including antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs such as the carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae shown above. Reuters/CDC/Handout

A new global action plan endorsed by the World Health Assembly in Geneva Monday urges all governments to have national strategies in place by May 2017 to combat antimicrobial resistance, a global phenomenon that facilitates the rise of deadly superbugs. Most countries do not have nationwide plans to address climbing rates of antibiotic resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance -- a term alluding to the point when bacteria, parasites and other infection-causing microorganisms cease to respond to medicines designed to kill them -- is "a problem so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Such resistance, frequently linked to the overuse of antibiotics, could lead to a "post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries can kill."

The plan endorsed by the World Health Assembly, the WHO's decision-making body meeting May 18-26 this year, dates back to the assembly's meeting last year, when it asked for a global action plan to be drafted in an attempt to prevent medicines from losing their effectiveness against infectious diseases.

The WHO devised such a plan by December. It is designed to guide national governments in their efforts to craft strategies to keep antibiotics as effective as possible. Each national plan should "cover the use of antimicrobial medicines in animal health and agriculture, as well as for human health," the United Nations' public-health agency said in a statement Monday.

Overall, the endorsed plan aims to amp up research into antimicrobial resistance, broaden the public's awareness the issue, cut down on infections, ensure that antimicrobial substances are used as effectively as possible and push for increased investment in original medicines and other medical needs.

Just one-quarter of the world's countries have strategies to combat climbing rates of antibiotic resistance, a WHO report released in April showed. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics not only in human medicine but also in livestock contribute greatly to the development of such resistance in bacteria.

Despite the rise of superbugs -- bacteria that do not respond to multiple drugs that once may have treated them -- few new drugs are under development to replace the increasingly ineffective ones, the WHO said.

In the European Union every year, drug-resistant bacteria cause about 25,000 deaths and additional health-care costs of at least $1.65 billion. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 23,000 Americans die each year as a result of infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria. In February, four deaths at two U.S. hospitals were linked to carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a highly resistant family of bacteria, found on scopes used in a routine medical procedure.