Fighting Back Against Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance doesn’t distinguish between color, economic status or political systems. It affects all seven billion of us, and we need to do something about it.

These were the words spoken by the British Economist, Lord Jim O’Neill, who was a speaker at the 9th Discovery Leadership Summit held this past November in Sandton City, Johannesburg, South Africa.

In 2014, O’Neill, who also happens to be the creator of the BRIC acronym, was tasked by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to establish and chair a Review into AMR. The role of the review was to analyze the global problem of rising drug resistance. It proposes actions to which to tackle the rising problem of antimicrobial resistance.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobials have saved countless lives yet their high usage has led to a significant increase in antimicrobial resistance.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when specific bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Essentially, antibiotics no longer have any effect on bacterial growth. These bacteria can go on to infect other humans and their ailments will become even harder to treat. 

Bacteria | Longevity LIVE

Antimicrobial resistance covers a broader term and includes resistance to medicines that treat infections caused by microbes. These microbes include parasites, viruses and fungi and the infections they cause include malaria, TB, candida, athlete’s foot and ringworm.

Common causes of antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance has weakened the effectiveness of systems created to cure and contain infectious diseases. In order to counter this growing epidemic, it’s important to understand just what exactly causes it.

  • Agricultural use

While there is still a debate about just how exactly antibiotic usage in animals  can cause human health problems, the concern still remains.

The exaggerated use of antimicrobials and antibiotics in animals can result in a reservoir of resistant bacteria.

  • Repeated misuse

Medication | Longevity LIVE

The risk of antimicrobial resistance is heightened when healthcare providers inappropriately use antimicrobials. This can occur when said individuals prescribe antimicrobials to appease an irritable patient with an as-yet undiagnosed condition.

Diagnosing an infection can also take up both time and money. The solution will be to prescribe a broad-spectrum antimicrobial as a ‘just-in-case’ elective.

  • Patients not taking their medication

When patients don’t take their entire prescribed course, the bacteria can adapt to its environment. More so, a low dose of antimicrobials. The bacteria then creates a drug-resistant population that says medication will be unable to eliminate, regardless of dosage.

Tackling antimicrobial resistance

The World Health Organization has acknowledged antimicrobial resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today. Following a request by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord O’Neill created his review. Dubbed ‘The 10 commandments of AMR’, the review proposes 10 key focus areas. These areas set out to guide global action on the efforts required to tackle antimicrobial resistance. 

  1. A global public awareness campaign

Creating public awareness is important. Countries need to collectively work together and decide on a common set of 
core messages. These messages need to be globally consistent, with recognizable
 iconic themes and symbols. Each country can ensure that they deliver the message in a way that is tailored to their population.

  1. Improve sanitation and prevent the spread of infection.

Poor sanitation | Longevity LIVE

Unhygienic and diseased environments increase the risk of illnesses which then create a need for antibiotics. Thus, it’s important to implement preventive health systems in hospitals and both rural and urban areas.

  1. Reduce unnecessary use of antimicrobials in agriculture and their dissemination into the environments.

Antibiotic use in agriculture can help to maintain animal health and welfare. However, the misuse of agricultural antibiotics can pose a threat to human health. This past October, the European Union introduced a law that will come into effect in 2022 to ban last-in-line antibiotics (intended for humans) in animals.

  1. Improve global surveillance of drug resistance and antimicrobial consumption in humans and animals.

Surveillance helps to provide data that can help improve patient health. The information can also provide early warnings of emerging threats and help identify long–term trends.

It’s important to continue to improve the monitoring and understanding of infectious diseases globally, and ensure that the surveillance of drug-resistant infections is included in these systems. According to Lord O’Neill, leading surveillance research on antimicrobial resistance is being done in South Africa by institutions like the University of Cape Town.

  1. Promote new, rapid diagnosis to reduce the unnecessary use of antimicrobials.

New and rapid diagnostic tests can play a role by properly informing health practitioners on whether a patient has an infection and if this infection requires the use of antibiotics.

  1. Promote development and use of vaccines and alternatives

Vaccines can fight against antimicrobial resistance by preventing the infection in the first place thus it’s advisable to sustain a viable market for vaccines.

  1. Improve the number, pay and recognition of people working on infectious diseases.

Research | Longevity LIVE

In order to implement the steps mentioned, it’s imperative to have a vibrant, well-trained and empowered workforce to implement them. Governments and leaders need to invest in the people in this field, expand opportunities and seriously consider how to train and reward them adequately.

  1. We must increase the supply of new antimicrobials effective against drug‑resistant bugs.

Antimicrobial resistance is inevitable, thus it is imperative to have a better supply of new drugs across a range of diseases where drug resistance is on the rise.

  1. We need a global innovation fund for the supply of new antimicrobials effective against drug resistance bugs.

To address these issues of grant funding, the Review proposes a Global Innovation Fund for antimicrobial resistance, endowed with 2 billion USD over five years. 

  1. Better incentives to promote investment in new drugs and improve existing ones.

The review suggests that a new system will be implemented that will properly reward developers of new products that most effectively address both current needs and those which will foreseeable rise in the future as antimicrobial resistance worsens.

While there has been progress on several of the Ten Commandments, Lord O’Neill continues to emphasize the dire need to tackle antimicrobial resistance,

“In the absence of a solution, antimicrobial resistance could, by 2050, cause 10 million deaths a year – which is far more deaths than cancer causes today,” he added, “One third of global AMR-linked deaths could stem from drug-resistant tuberculosis alone. Very worrying signs show that the rise of drug resistance is only set to worsen with time”

Want To Know More?

With antimicrobial resistance continuing to be a growing threat, prevention is important. Click here to find out how probiotics in yogurts can help fight antimicrobial resistance.