Today is the start of World Antibiotic Awareness Week (13-19 November), which was started by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015 to raise awareness and collective action against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on a global level. AMR is one of the biggest threats to global health. Its rapid spread across the world compromises our ability to treat infectious disease and has severe repercussions to human, animal and environmental health.
We are joined by Dr Marc Sprenger, the Director of the WHO Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat. Dr Sprenger is an expert in infectious diseases, epidemiology and global health, and works with the AMR Secretariat to implement the Global Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance.
How real is the threat of AMR and what impact could it have on global health?
“Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to global public health. Simply put, if we don’t address this problem now, we will no longer be able to treat common infections in the future. The over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistance. Some types of bacteria that cause serious infections in humans have already developed resistance to most or all of the available treatments, and there are very few promising options in the research pipeline.
AMR occurs everywhere in the world, in both rich and poor countries and it doesn’t discriminate – anyone can be affected. AMR leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.
Moreover, it also threatens global and national economies and jeopardizes development efforts. For instance, seven of the of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be negatively impacted if AMR is not addressed.”
This year is the 3rd annual World Antibiotics Awareness Week (WAAW). What has been achieved by WAAW over the past 3 years to address the global threat of AMR?
“Raising awareness globally to heighten knowledge regarding when and how to correctly use, or prescribe antibiotics is a very long journey, and it is one that has only just begun. We know that awareness of this issue varies greatly by region and country and public campaigns at a global level will only work if we encourage and embrace the help of numerous communities across the health care landscape – whether they’re healthcare workers, educators, faith based organizations or major institutions, academia or other agencies and of course, national governments.
In three years, WAAW has highlighted the impact of AMR leading up to the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on AMR to ensure that governments work towards combatting AMR. WAAW continues to focus on the actions that we can all be mindful of, whether we are healthcare workers, clinicians, prescribers, parents or the general public.”
AMR is becoming ever more prevalent on the global political landscape. What impact is this having on the international level?
“AMR isn’t just a global health security issue because it strikes at the heart of global development writ large. AMR has the potential to undo the incredible progress of modern medicine, to stagnate the global economy and set the world back on its path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The impact of this potential reality is that world leaders are now paying close attention to the potential devastation that AMR may cause and it is now an issue that appears on the agendas of the G7 and G20 making this issue much more than a health issue.”
What does the future hold for AMR?
“We are already seeing infections that are resistant to all antibiotics – this is well known. Therefore, we must work extremely hard to safeguard the medications that are critical to human health, and facilitate research and development of new drugs.
Ideally, the world would have a pipeline with new antibiotics that works side by side with effective stewardship policies to ensure that the precious new antibiotics are used properly, in addition to the ones we have had for decades.”
What key messages do you have for the general public for this year’s campaign?
“Everyone has a role to play in helping to tackle AMR. One of the main ways to reduce the emergence of resistance is to reduce the unnecessary use of antimicrobials in humans and animals and environment.
Secondly, preventing infections in the first place through good hygiene and keeping vaccinations up-to-date will reduce the need for antibiotics too. Antibiotics do not treat viruses like colds and flu so should not be used.
Thirdly, people should not share or re-use antibiotics, or buy them from street sellers or online. And our theme this year is that everyone should always seek the advice of a healthcare professional before taking antibiotics.”
To keep updated on all new research and education developments in AMR, explore expert views from leaders in the field in our journal Thematic Issues in Antimicrobial Therapy, One Health and Keeping Education Fresh. You can also get involved in our Fighting AMR and One Health campaigns.