The global threat of antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial Resistance

The United Nations considers antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to be one of the most “serious global public health threats in this century.” 

But what is antimicrobial resistance you may ask? 

Let’s start by defining what antimicrobials are. Antimicrobials are a type of medicine used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals, and plants.  

Therefore, AMR is when germs like bacteria, viruses, funguses, and parasites develop the ability to defeat drugs, such as antimicrobials, that were designed to kill them. As a result of this drug resistance, antimicrobial medicine becomes ineffective in treating and preventing infections. 

Antimicrobial Awareness Week

Image credits 

Several factors are linked to the emergence of AMR 

The occurrence of AMR is natural, usually through genetic changes. However, there are several factors that contribute to AMR, some of these are:  

  • misuse or overuse of antimicrobials (a most common source of AMR), 
  • limited access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene for both humans and animals,
  • poor preventative and public health and safety measures in high-risk sports, such as healthcare facilities and farms,
  • limited access to good quality affordable medicines and vaccines, or 
  • lack of awareness, knowledge, or legislation.  

Antimicrobial resistance has become a threat to public health systems 

AMR is a major concern for our public health systems. This is because if drug-resistant germs continue to evolve, emerge and spread, this could come at a significant cost to our health system, resulting in medical procedures such as surgeries becoming extremely difficult if not impossible and common infections becoming untreatable and even potentially leading to deaths.  

This concern is further heightened by the ongoing shortage of new antimicrobial drugs.  

“Anti-microbial resistance is an important challenge we need to focus on because we know for example in the UK that one in three patients in a hospital are on antibiotics at any one time…” – Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope 

In 2021, Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope, Pharmacist Lead for the AMR division, was a Plenary Speaker at the 62nd LIYSF in 2021.  In an interview with LIYSF, she spoke about the magnitude of this issue and why AMR is a key focus within the public health sector.  

Check out the interview here – 

We can all play a role in managing the impacts of antimicrobial resistance  

Despite AMR being a natural consequence of the ever-evolving microbes, scientists believe that we can reduce the overall impact of AMR by changing some of our behaviours.  

Some of the behaviours that can help reduce the impact of AMR are:  

  • Having strong infectious control and prevention practices– can reduce harmful microbes in the first place, preventing infection, and consequently the risk of AMR. 
  • Understanding how infections develop and taking action to break the cycle of infection – can be achieved through washing hands, catching coughs and sneezes, and cleaning homes and offices. 
  • Not overusing or misusing antibiotics – can contribute to germs able to develop the ability to become drug-resistant. 
  • From a commercial perspective, reducing environmental exposure through effective water treatment and proper agricultural processes. 

Scientific researchers, much in the likes of Dr Diane Ashiru- Oredope, also play a vital role in fighting the global threat of AMR through her research and contribution to the field of public health and medicine.  

For all you visual learners out there, check out this video by the UK Health Security Agency where Dr Ashiru-Oredope explains what AMR is, what it means, and why it matters!  

Video Credits: UK Health Security Agency 

 Before we wrap up, here are some key takeaways 

  • The World Health Organisation has declared that AMR is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity.
  • Misuse and overuse of antimicrobials are one of the main drivers of antimicrobial resistance.
  • The consequence of AMR is detrimental, not only to the health of people, animals, and the environment but can also have a significant impact on the economy and development of a country 
  • There are behaviour changes both individuals and society can make to help reduce the impact of AMR.

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