COVID-19 Responses Show Promise Against Antimicrobial Resistance
Washing hands with water and soap can help prevent the spread of AMR and protect people.

A Friday session of the 74th World Health Assembly discussed a report on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and multi-sectoral approaches to address it. Speakers generally supported a One Health approach involving multiple agencies concerned with communicable diseases, environment, water and food. 

This approach recognises the interconnectedness of people with environments and other animals. The World Health Organization is encouraging national action plans to combat AMR, and so far 144 countries have such a plan in place. 

Summing up discussion on the report,  Björn Kümmel, Vice Chair, WHO Executive Board member, said countries “called for sustained action and investment, stressed the need for a multi-sectoral collaboration to prevent the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance, recommended to promote research on strengthening control through a One Health approach, collect comprehensive data, standardise data collection methodology and develop a global platform for sharing best practices.”

Emphasis on One Health, Community Approaches 

Globally, the UK Review on AMR puts the human toll from drug-resistant infections at 700,000 deaths per year. However, up to 5.7 million people die annually from treatable infections, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, and many because they lack access to antibiotics. 

Antibiotics were the most common drug class in WHO’s 2017 Essential Medicines List, but their indiscriminate use increases AMR risks. 

The World Bank reported that AMR containment investment will provide “substantial economic payoffs” to low-income countries, but that the greatest absolute and per-capita gains from such spending would “flow to upper-middle-income and high-income countries.” 

Given that the current pandemic has been linked to non-human origins, several speakers mentioned the One Health approach. Country representatives called for multi-sectoral data sharing and collaboration across regions, and approximately 105 countries have enrolled in a global surveillance system.

 “The current dynamic has resulted in increasing misuse of antimicrobials, including in COVID-19 patients … highlighting the need for strengthening antimicrobial stewardship involving health workers, and incentivising research and development on an equitable access to new microbials,” Portugal’s representative said. 

Africa, Bangladesh Speak for Low-Income Countries 

 Those from middle- and low-income countries warned that widespread AMR presents serious economic ramifications. 

“Antimicrobial resistance has become a serious threat to public health,” Burkina Faso said, speaking on behalf of WHO’s Africa Region. “Up to 10 million human lives will be lost, 60% percent of which are in Africa, by 2050 — and this will be an economic disaster as well.”

Noting that 144 countries have national action plans, Bangladesh said, “We’re concerned that many countries, particularly the low- and middle-income ones, are facing many challenges in the implementation of the action plans.” 

Bangladesh said pandemic tools can strengthen AMR surveillance capacities by improving infection control and preventive efforts to address both issues, but that this depends on sustainable financing.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem of antimicrobial resistance, thanks to the overuse of antibiotics and a weakening of the health system,” said Ashley Arabasadi, Management Sciences for Health senior external affairs manager. “We need to move now to contain AMR while we still have the capacity to do so.”

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

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