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Three reasons why World Antimicrobial Awareness Week is more important than ever

As the world attempts to adjust and move forward, following the outbreak and ongoing disruption of COVID-19, there is another pandemic that deserves urgent attention. 

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been widely described by experts as the ‘slow pandemic’. Its global spread may be gradual but its impact could be just as, if not more devastating that the fast pandemic we’re currently fighting. 

This World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (18-24 November), we take a look why tackling the threat of AMR is so urgent.

1. AMR is one of the top 10 global health threats facing humanity

Declared a critical global concern by the World Health Organization , AMR is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and linked to millions of illnesses every year in humans and animals.  In the future, resistant diseases could cause as many as 10 million deaths per year.

The complexity arises as we cannot treat bacterial infections in humans or animals without antibiotics, so we have to continue using them. However, AMR increases when antibiotics are used unnecessarily or not taken correctly. This can result in difficulties treating common bacterial infections in humans and animals and render these essenital drugs ineffective in the long-term.

2. Our knowledge of AMR still needs improvement

This week, the UK-based Wellcome Trust issued a new report – The Global Response to AMR — assessing the global progress on combatting AMR in recent years. The authors highlighted the impressive progress in raising AMR to the top of the global health agenda and the ‘broad, multi-sectoral coalition of actors’ willing to fight this international challenge.

However, the Wellcome Trust reported a lack of available research and data to properly assess exactly how interventions to tackle antibiotic use in the animal health world impact the reduction of resistant infections in people. 

It states: “evidence on whether an ‘x-point’ reduction in antibiotic use in animals leads to anywhere near a similar magnitude reduction in human drug-resistant infections is absent”. 

It added that while use of antibiotics in animals can play a role in human AMR, “the impact of veterinary antibiotic use on human health needs to be quantified in more detail before the relative contribution of animal use can be compared to other paths”.

As a result of such knowledge gaps, Wellcome is urging global leaders to focus on ‘expanding the evidence base’ to remove barriers and determine where action in areas like animal health can be most effective.

3. AMR can be managed through action and collaboration

The fight against AMR often seems insurmountable, but it can be won. Recent partnerships and actions demonstrate that actors across human and animal health are ready to work towards solutions.

  • Farmers across the world are adopting greater preventative health approaches, investing in vaccine therapy, recognising the importance of probiotics to build robust animals and improving biosecurity measures
  • The animal health sector has released a ‘Roadmap to Reducing the Need for Antibiotics’ in animals that provides a clear pathway to more responsible use and better stewardship of antibiotics
  • GARDP, a new WHO partnership, aims to develop five new treatments that target drug-resistant bacteria by 2025 in human health
  • The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is publishing invaluable data in their Annual Report on Antimicrobial Agents Intended for Use in Animals, with the fifth edition expected next spring.

As we enter the next decade, these actions will only continue to grow.

COVID-19 proves what we can achieve together.

The COVID-19 response has demonstrated that the world can work together, and animal and human health industries can collaborate to create rapid solutions. AMR requires this same sense of global urgency if we want to continue using antibiotics to save the lives of humans and animals across the world for generations to come.