Antimicrobial resistance and human health

Beryl Osindo, CNS Correspondent, Kenya 
The emergence of drug resistant bacteria, viruses, and parasites, is challenging modern medicine to address antimicrobial resistance (AMR) at an entirely new level. The administering of antimicrobial drugs to treat infections is a common practice that has been used over the years.

The greatest concern is that ineffectiveness of antibiotics, antivirals, and antimalarials cause illness, deaths, and the increased use of expensive medicines. This has also complicated the fight against malaria and HIV because scientific advancements made towards the discovery of new drugs are met by vast AMR challenges. One of the greatest fears is that ineffectiveness of antibiotics, antimalarials, and antivirals will compromise the effective administration of major surgeries including cancer chemotherapy. The World Health Organization aggressively recommends the adoption of health policies that increase awareness about the ineffectiveness of antimicrobials and persistence of infections, which easily spread to other people. The rationale is to empower communities and promote prevention, rather than  dealing with stubborn conditions later.

In the recently concluded World Health Summit held in Berlin, Germany, AMR did not receive the much-needed attention. According to Thomas Cueni, Director General of International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, without improved diagnostics for AMR, the world risks losing at least 10 million people annually by 2050. Consequently, AMR inaction will cost the world $100 trillion in GDP lowering by the same year. On the other hand, Jeremy Farrar, an established Wellcome Trust researcher established that AMR is not only about infections, but it concerns modern medicine. Throughout the summit, was the speakers’ inability to draw a relationship between AMR and food security or climate change.

The WHO Global TB report of 2018 reveals that in 2017 at least 580,000 people suffered from drug resistant TB and this was an increase from 490,000 individuals estimated to have been suffering from the condition in 2016. Renowned policymakers, including Dr. Haileyesus Getahun of the WHO, assure different communities that research is underway and the findings will be instrumental in determining the next direction the world will take in managing AMR. Currently, an interagency approach to information sharing, health policy shaping, research, and drug administration collectively apply to arrest AMR.

Animals are also fed antibiotics and drug resistance applies to them too. At some point, people consume meat and the infections spread to the human body making them sick. In 2018, the Salmonella outbreak caused panic, and the issue was approached traditionally as awareness programs that promote effective hand-washing habits have always been in existence. Nonetheless, experts are racing against time to save lives by developing solutions to the recurring AMR problems.  For this reason, AMR’s impact on food security and agriculture cannot be ignored. An insightful knowledge sharing done by Garance Upham, Vice President at World Alliance Against Antibiotic Resistance (WAAR) during a webinar organised by CNS, revealed that bacteria operate collectively. Sometimes even eating a fruit imported from a different country exposes ones body to bacterial infection. The bacteria in the body and from the fruit harmoniously work together, and the likelihood of facing AMR in the future is high. Animals face a similar predicament and so do agricultural crops. While the rest of the world is concerned about the ineffectiveness of antimalarials and antiobiotics, few organizations are committed to conducting research of the impacts of AMR on climate change and agriculture.

Findings establish that drug resistant bacteria can be transferred from animals to human beings. Also, excessive use of farm antibiotics can cause resistance in humans. Therefore, the food chain, which involves plants, animals and human beings, causes cross-infections. Upham revealed that farm produce are at the risk of reduced production because of AMR. Besides ending up in the human system to cause infections such as UTIs, the same crops face the risk of extinction. As a result, various research institutions are collaborating to address the replication of the dangerous bacteria strains so that AMR can be arrested.

The world is changing at a fast pace and control of AMR is transforming into a fortified global campaign to sustain change at different societal levels. There is optimism that modern medicine and policy changes will collectively lead to the development of solutions that would help eliminate disease resistance.

Beryl Osindo, Citizen News Service - CNS

October 24, 2018