Anti-microbial resistance (AMR) or antibiotic resistance develops when a microorganism (bacteria, fungus, virus or parasite) becomes resistant to a drug to which it was sensitive, according to the WHO. This means that standard treatments no longer work; infections are harder or impossible to control; the risk of the spread of infection to others is increased; illness and hospital stays are prolonged. The current debate around AMR has been gaining ground as the usage of anti-microbials is an essential process for fighting infections, conducting surgeries and treating serious diseases.
‘Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance 2014’, published by the WHO, is an attempt to gain a realistic understanding of the problem. The key findings of this report include high rates of resistance observed in all WHO regions among bacteria that cause common infections. In 2015, the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy Report revealed that 58,000 babies died in 2013 due to infections their bodies were unable to fight. According to a report published by the UK’s Independent Review, an estimated 10 million deaths per year can occur by 2050 if resistance is left unchecked.
The chief cause of AMR is the excessive usage of antibiotics in unregulated forms. Another important factor is that many pharmaceutical companies don’t have good waste-treatment mechanisms. They dispose of effluents and byproducts into our water and river bodies, making them toxic breeding grounds for resistant bacteria. According to a report by Nordea Investments, half of bacterial infections and diseases in and around the periphery of plants producing active pharmaceutical ingredients in Patancheru and Bollaram in Andhra Pradesh, a major pharmaceutical hub, are becoming untreatable. Also there are significant losses in agricultural activities and livelihood because of discharge from plants. Lakes and rivers have dried up or have become unusable for both domestic and drinking purposes.
Therefore, AMR demands a resolute effort by all stakeholders alike, be it health professionals, industry experts or international agencies. In 2015, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global action plan to tackle antibiotic resistance. Increased funding and investment are required for research and development in the field of antimicrobial development so that new and effective antibiotics can be produced. The challenges include poor sanitation, hygiene, cleanliness, gaps and limitations in current regulations and the need for stringent checks by central and state water pollution boards.
People, too, need to use and consume antibiotics responsibly. High-quality and responsible production processes should be used to limit the quantity of antibiotics and other toxic chemicals that are released into the environment. Stronger policies to be formulated need to bring in stricter regulations. In short, concerted action is the only means to tackle a danger of this proportion.
Anurag Roy is business unit director, Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals. The views expressed are personal.