Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) – A Growing Concern


To combat this threat, we need to adopt caution

Antimicrobial, antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic drugs are medicines used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites develop the ability to evade these drugs, and instead of being killed off, continue to grow. Some treatments have become less, or almost completely ineffective, increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness, and even death.

Many decades after the first antibiotics started saving lives, bacterial infections have, once again, become a looming threat.

Why Is This Happening?

According to the World Health Organization the problem is many-fold:

• The misuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs, like antibiotics, is however, the main concern.
• Overuse is not limited to the over prescription, incorrect dosage or incorrect choice of medicines in the medical field, but also, the use of many antimicrobial drugs as preventative treatments and growth supplements in agriculture.
• Inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and improper hygiene practices in relation to humans and livestock.
• Poor disease prevention, and lack of access to proper medical consultations and treatments.
• Lack of public awareness on safe and effective use of medicines like antibiotics, and lack of drug control mechanisms, such as enforced safety protocols or legislations.

The number of resources spent on developing new pharmaceutical drugs is inadequate. Funding cuts and regulatory obstacles have seen fifteen out of the eighteen largest pharmaceutical developers abandon pursuits in this field.

If One Treatment Fails, Why Not Use Another?

• Anti-microbial resistant infections that necessitate the use of second and even third course drug treatments, can be dangerous and harmful towards patients. Serious side-effects such as organ damage or complete organ failure are of big concern. Care and recovery periods are also lengthened considerably, sometimes by months, placing immense strain on the patient’s, as well as the health system’s resources.
• Many surgical procedures and life-saving medical treatments such as joint replacements, organ transplants, cancer therapies, and the treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis are completely dependent on effective infection-fighting antibiotics.
• In some cases, there are no other drugs available to treat a specific infection.

Once these drugs lose their effectiveness, we lose the ability to control a multitude of public health threats. We can merely attempt to medicate symptoms.

So, What Can I Do?

You’ve probably noticed the brightly coloured stickers your pharmacist adds to every box of antibiotics. They tell you to ‘Finish the course,’ and the instructions are not for your benefit alone. Unfinished antibiotic courses can cause infections to persist and illness to return, even if your symptoms abated or disappeared, and it is a leading cause for the development of antibiotic resistant infections.

Avoid self-medicating and only take antibiotics if your healthcare provider deems them absolutely necessary. Follow the dosage instructions, and do not share medications.

Prevention is key. Avoid infections through diligent handwashing, avoid unnecessary close contact with sick people, and keep your vaccinations up to date. Always use barrier protection methods to guard against contracting STIs.

A Global Problem

Antimicrobial resistance has been listed as one of the World Health Organization’s Top 10 global public health threats. In 2019 it was associated with nearly five million deaths globally, and the amount of recorded antimicrobial resistant infections each year is growing.

Global Awareness and Involvement

At the 2015 World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly, countries committed to a ‘Global Action Plan’ to ensure sustainable, coordinated progress in combatting AMR across all their national sectors.

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) which was implemented in the same year, aims to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance worldwide, and educate on best practices among the general public and healthcare workers alike. It also aims to encourage policy makers to slow the development and spread of drug-resistant infections through adopting control mechanisms and new legislations.

WAAW takes place from 18-24 November, and its slogan remains the same since 2020: “Antimicrobials: Handle with Care.”