The World Health Organization (WHO) said the misuse and irrational use of antibiotics has undermined the global fight against tuberculosis and malaria, warning of a possible return to the days before the drugs were developed.

An estimated 440,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis were reported last year in nearly 60 countries across the globe, Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for Western Pacific area, said in a statement.

"At the same time, other age-old diseases are on the rise with the possibility of no cure," Shin said, calling on WHO's 193 member-states to commit resources and adopt policies to fight the growing problem of drug resistance.

"Antimicrobial resistance is a global concern not only because it kills, but because it increases health costs and threatens patient care."

The WHO used World Heath Day on Thursday to launch its "Combat Drug Resistance! No action today, no cure tomorrow" policy.

Apart from tuberculosis, which it said should have been contained decades ago, the WHO said the fight against malaria was being hampered by the emergence of a strain resistant to the frontline drug, artemisinin.

Similarly, treatment for gonorrhoea was threatened by growing resistance to the last-line treatment, and the WHO said hospital-acquired superbugs, resistant to major antibiotics, were becoming increasing frequent.

In 2001, the WHO developed a global strategy to check antimicrobial resistance, but it said the measures had not been widely implemented.

"While action is needed, commitment, implementation and accountability have lagged behind," the WHO said.