5 Crucial Ways to Prevent Antimicrobial Resistance
by Angela Conejero
August 18, 2019
It was in the 1930s when medical advancements occurred with the development of drugs to treat infections in patients, targeting disease-causing fungi, viruses, parasites, and bacteria. Over the decades, these microbes have been surviving and becoming resistant to drugs through exposure and mutation, which is what leads to or causes antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This poses a threat to global health since drug-resistant microbes can gravely complicate simple wounds and surgeries, changing the face of medicine as we know it.
The development of AMR has been rapid as a result of misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which are factors that the Global Action Plan of the World Health Organization seeks to tackle. The costs of AMR are huge in the United States, where more than two million infections, over 20 billion dollars in excess medical costs, and 35 billion dollars in lost productivity are incurred every year. By the year 2050, AMR is projected to cause 10 million deaths worldwide per annum, which equates to a distressing ratio of one person dying every 3.154 seconds.
Here are 5 important facts backed by science to demonstrate what humanity is doing to counter the phenomenon that may spell epidemics and pandemics for us all.
1. Research should continue into minimizing repeated antimicrobial over-prescription by physicians.
While the growing resistance of microbial infections can be traced in part to their natural mutation in response to the defenses of the human body, a large contribution to the development of these “superbugs” is the chronic practice of antibiotic over-prescription. even for non-bacterial infections. This has led to a movement of antimicrobial stewardship for responsible antibiotic use, where stakeholders advocate for reduction of needless antibiotic and antimicrobial drugs.
The healthcare industry is looking into minimizing the rates of improper antibiotic prescription without sacrificing the quality of medical care, using a combination of patient-level data and artificial intelligence. This does prevent over-use of medication, but the implementation of machine learning technology to aid physicians will require vast amounts of administrative and medical information from patients in an era where data privacy is becoming a huge issue.
2. Regulations should be finalized on the use of antimicrobials in the food industry.
Since human infections can affect animals and vice versa, unnecessary use of antimicrobials in the food industry can accelerate AMR as well. Due to this threat, the World Health Organization has sought the reduction of antibiotics in agriculture and livestock farming, which are mainly used to promote growth or prevent infection instead of curing it. Rightly so, as restricted antibiotic use in food-producing animals can cause up to 15% in reductions of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals, and up to 24% reduction in humans.
Intergovernmental discussions are already setting public priorities for combating AMR in the food chain, led by the international food safety body Codex Alimentarius Commission, the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group on AMR, and the World Trade Organization with participation of other states and non-governmental entities. The World Economic Forum and other national agencies have followed suit in proposing AMR directives. While there are no internationally binding targets for reducing AMR, the next years could see other countries following in Europe’s footsteps to heavily regulate antibiotic use in food production.
3. New antibiotics and treatments are already in the human testing stage and should be soon available.
After long years of flagging investment into antibiotic research and development, a new antibiotic has been produced for the first time in three decades. Other research is looking into toxins produced by bacteria, or bacteria-eating viruses called bacteriophages, to combat AMR. These microbes are also being converted into drug form to deal with AMR. The scientific community is starting to gear itself towards researching AMR across multidisciplinary fields, which may be very reassuring for our future.
Without more economic incentives, however, current drug research, development and production to combat AMR might not be sufficient. Studies have found that venture capitalists are stopping funding for antibiotic research, This is due to their lower returns on investment, since antibiotics are not taken continuously like maintenance medication. Reversing the trend of flagging antibiotic and antimicrobial drug investment will require cross-sectoral efforts from governments, the public sector and private pharmaceutical companies that are only just beginning with the Global Innovation Fund, recently established by the UK and Chinese governments.
4. Awareness programs to combat AMR are being organized worldwide for everyone’s participation.
Public awareness of antibiotics and AMR is generally low and is mainly confined to those that work in the healthcare industry. In response, antibiotic awareness programs are being instituted worldwide, including the World Antibiotic Awareness Week organized by the World Health Organization. Over 125 countries currently have an established national AAC, although their effectiveness may vary.
Research shows, however, that AACs may not be effectively formulated depending on the prevailing cultural contexts and the prevalence of issues such as prescription sharing or self-medication. Due to ineffective messaging, studies are trying to determine what are the most important communications and methods to breed AMR awareness in varying countries.
5. Responsible practices to deal with AMR are and should be emphasized on an individual level.
AMR can be delayed in its tracks when everyone contributes to public health measures for antimicrobial stewardship, including families, communities and workplaces. These social institutions are mandated to encourage proper health-seeking behavior to stop the spread of illness and the development of AMR.
For every individual, responsible and healthful practices include:
- Using antimicrobial drugs only when prescribed by—and not requested or obtained via pressure from—a physician;
- Finishing all prescriptions as directed, even after main symptoms have been resolved, so that illness-causing microbes are completely wiped out instead of developing AMR;
- Getting vaccinated to avoid contracting diseases and having to take the corresponding antibiotics; and
- Following good hygiene such as hand-washing and observing sanitary food preparation practices to stop the spread of microbes.
- Going to the doctor when treatment is required and wearing a face mask to avoid infecting others.
In the face of such a daunting threat to the lives and quality of living of populations everywhere, more global action and legislation is required to organize humanity’s resources into a concerted effort to to prevent and solve issues caused by AMR. This starts with each person accumulating knowledge, spreading awareness regarding the issue, and making sure communities do their part in ensuring proper healthcare practices.
With all these efforts in the race against antimicrobial resistance, we may still yet win the marathon.