The The international community commemorates World Antimicrobial Awareness Week from 18 to 24 November every year, to raise awareness of the risks posed by overuse and misuse of antimicrobials, including antibiotics, and to encourage their more responsible use.
In the spirit of the One Health approach, this year’s theme, “Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance Together”, calls for urgent multisectoral action to preserve the efficacy of this fundamental component of modern medicine.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), known more commonly as “drug resistance”, occurs when disease-causing germs become resistant to traditional medication, making infections harder to treat, and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death.
Lack of effective antimicrobials will also negatively impact treatment of diseases in animals, with potentially dire consequences for food security, and overall economic growth.
The global and regional burden is alarming, but it is sub-Saharan African countries that bear the heaviest burden of resistant bacterial infections. In 2019, 4.95 million deaths globally were attributed to drug-resistant bacterial infections, with 1.27 million directly related to AMR – more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.
Compared to other regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest AMR-associated death rates, at 99 deaths per 100 000 population, far exceeding previous global projections of 700 000 annual deaths from AMR.
Compounding the challenge is that more than half of all deaths recorded in the WHO African Region are caused by communicable diseases managed with antimicrobial medicines. As such, AMR puts at risk decades of advances towards the control of diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and sexually-transmitted infections.
Various reports also suggest that the management of COVID-19 patients with antibiotics has fueled the global AMR threat.
While AMR does occur naturally, the concern lies with the current high rates of development and spread. Other than misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in human and animal health, other drivers include limited availability and uptake of vaccines; limited diagnostic capacity to support appropriate treatment; lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene; poor infection prevention and control practices; poor disposal practices; and the presence of antimicrobials in the environment and water bodies.
Guided by the Global Action Plan on AMR, and in line with WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work (GPW), WHO in the African Region continues to support regional and national interventions to combat AMR. To date, 39 countries have developed national action plans to counter the threat, with 30 approved by national authorities.
WHO also developed a costing and budgeting tool to support resource mobilisation to enhance implementation efforts. This has so far been used by Sierra Leone and The Gambia to cost their national action plans, and Tanzania is in the process of following suit.
Efforts to sustain ongoing regional education and awareness are being supported through monthly webinars for effective messaging and information-sharing to promote understanding of AMR, and the requisite behaviour changes to address it. These have been attended by health professionals from about 30 Member States.
As we mark World Antimicrobial Week this year, WHO joins hands with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the UN Environment Programme, the African Centres for Disease Control and the African Union Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, in a continental appeal for increased high-level political advocacy to highlight the depth of the AMR threat.
I would also like to take this opportunity to issue a call to action to governments of our Member States in Africa to:
Commit investment towards sustainable local financing and implementation of AMR National Action Plans focused on Infection Prevention and Control, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in our communities, as well as the establishment of multisectoral coordination mechanisms to counter the risks.
Build resilient health systems by maintaining the critical balance between addressing AMR and maintaining access to vital medicines.
Strengthen surveillance and laboratory capacity for detection, prevention and response to AMR through existing global and regional strategies and policies, including Universal Health Coverage and the International Health Regulations.
To the people of Africa, we all have a role to play in containing this global threat, by improving our health-seeking behaviour, not self-medicating but rather seeking professional advice in the event of illness, and ensuring that any prescribed treatment courses are completed.
As WHO, we commit our continued support, in collaboration with other partners, to advance efforts by Member States to combat AMR, through the One Health approach.
Remember, misuse and abuse of antimicrobials puts us all at risk, so let’s unite to Prevent Antimicrobial Resistance Together.
Source: World Health Organization