“Apparently there is a feeling among doctors that if one antimicrobial drug is good, two should be better and three should cure virtually everybody of virtually everything.”
– E. Jawetz 1967
This week I attended a seminar on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. Margaret Chan, Director-General, gave an excellent opening speech about a very complex problem. She was followed by presentations by three experts: Jeremy Farrar, Marie-Paule Kieny and Christoph Gradmann.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is in every country and every hospital around the world. It threatens the achievements of modern medicine and it affects everyone, from the very young to the very old. Infections that became manageable in many parts of the world, such as HIV and Malaria, have taken a turn for the worse.
Handing out medicine is easy and we all want a quick fix to our problems. But now, antibiotic resistance has reached alarming levels. We now have fewer antibiotics to cure common infections and we are seeing serious infections that can’t be reversed. People are dying because antibiotics are not working. We may be going back to the days when people died of ordinary infections.
The public’s overuse and misuse of antibiotics is a dangerous trend. Globally, more than 50% of antibiotics are sold over the counter. In developing countries, the sales of antibiotics for human consumption has increased.
AMR concerns not only people but also animals and acquaculture, where 80% of antibiotics are used. Resistant organisms – the superbugs – are transmitted in homes, communities, hospitals, food chains and water suppplies. AMR has no borders; it’s widespread and it isn’t a recent problem. Medical scientists predicted AMR 70 years ago, but no actions were taken to reverse the problem.
AMR surveillance needs improvement worldwide. Tracking AMR in a coordinated way is not an easy task, but it is a critical one. To mitigate AMR, threats need to be detected early and actions need to be implemented effectively and quickly. Surveillance is one area in which WHO and other sectors are working on.
During the seminar, my thoughts were with those who are trying to combat AMR. People shouldn’t sit back and wait for improved medicine. Individuals, families and communities need to understand AMR and take action.
To decrease AMR, we need to systematically integrate infection control practices in our lives and make informed decisions before taking antibiotics. Communities need to come together and create networks that will empower people to change their habits and adhere to preventive lifestyles.