November 13 to 19 was public health awareness campaign week on antimicrobial resistance, a critical threat to global health. Antimicrobial resistance according to World Health Organization is when microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials, and anthelmintics). As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others. Here are 6 tips to help you understand Antimicrobial resistance.
#1 Drug resistant bacteria are fatal to humans
Deadly bacteria resistant to penicillin, or the more than 100 different antibiotics since developed, are already killing 700,000 people every year. The global toll could rise to 10 million a year by 2050, this means that if unaddressed, drug-resistant infections could kill more people than cancer in that same year.
As a patient, antibiotics can seem such a simple treatment for infection, but the pills have a complex relationship with the very bacteria they are designed to destroy.
All microorganisms evolve and those that develop defenses against antibiotics will survive, while the defenseless will be killed. The more antibiotics we use, the faster the process of bacteria developing resistance becomes.
#2 Drug resistant bacteria can be spread by animals
Antibiotics are given to food producing animals and crops routinely to make them grow faster or help them survive crowded, stressful, and unsanitary conditions. When these drugs are overused by humans or animals some bacteria become antibiotic-resistant and undergo development in guts, threatening the future effectiveness of these medicines. And therefore drug resistant bacteria reach humans by consumption of undercooked meats or by direct human-animal contact.
#3 Lack of Antibiotics being developed is worsen the situation
From early 30s to 70s there has been tremendous research where different antibiotics where released on market but since 70s to date researches fall short. In 2011, Pfizer, one of the last major pharmaceutical companies developing new antibiotics, shut down its primary research effort, citing poor shareholder returns relative to drugs for chronic illnesses.
No new classes of antibiotics have been invented for decades. In fact, all the antibiotics brought to the market in the past 30 years have been variations on existing drugs discovered by 1984.
In article released by BBC showed reasons to why it is still a challenge to develop new antibiotic. One major hurdle impeding scientists in development of antibiotics is years of testing where it can take up to 10 to 20 years from discovery to medicine. The path from discovery to clinically approved medicine is necessarily long and the failure rate is high.
Incentives for research and development of drugs to overcome AMR is still lacking. Last year’s report from Médecins Sans Frontières very pointedly asserted that “Pharmaceutical companies deem investment in antibiotics are financially unattractive…In the absence of appropriate incentive mechanisms the need to be put in place by government, the medical priority remains unanswered.”
#4 Misuse of Antibiotics is still rampant
It was shown that in England only a fifth of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. In addition to that animals consume a large proportion of antibiotics — as much as 80% in the US. Such routine misuse of antibiotics leads to an increased number of superbugs.
While taking antibiotics remember that it is vital to finish the given dose not to leave them when you feel a bit relieved.
Antibiotics are solely used when prescribed. Sharing antibiotics, irrational antibiotic usage and not following advice from health care providers, like not complying with the dose prescribed, all these lead to antimicrobial resistance.
#5 Spread of drug resistant bacteria can be lowered to 40% by enforcing hand washing
No one should trivialise the fact that every October 15 is a hand washing day dedicated to reflect on the importance of hand washing.
Resistant bacteria, and many other pathogens, spread through poor infection control.
Hand washing is a very simple thing that can be done by everyone and in the end culminate in significant results by lowering spread of drug resistant bacteria at 40%.
#6 AMR needs to be among top priorities of health agenda
Health policy makers need to enforcing effective surveillance and monitoring systems to manage antimicrobial resistance.
For instance, antibiotics either in hospital or elsewhere should be strictly monitored or of course dispensed with a proof of medical prescription preceded by laboratory test to confirm infection.
Lastly, more collaboration is needed between governments and healthcare providers to ensure proper and effective decisions are taken towards reducing Antimicrobial resistance.
The author is a fifth year pharmacy intern at University of Rwanda