Combatting the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance

Published on Oct 28, 2022 01:37 PM IST

The article has been authored by Konda Reddy Chavva, officer-in-charge in India, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Rajesh Bhatia, Consultant, FAO.

Human development during recent past owes a lot to interventions such as antibiotics that assured availability of a healthy and productive population.
Human development during recent past owes a lot to interventions such as antibiotics that assured availability of a healthy and productive population.
ByHindustan Times

During the past eight decades, millions of lives have been saved by treating infectious diseases with antimicrobial agents – commonly also called antibiotics and ‘magic bullets’. Antimicrobials are the medicines used to prevent and treat infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites in human, animals and plants.

Human development during recent past owes a lot to interventions such as antibiotics that assured availability of a healthy and productive population. The antibiotics also helped in improving the yield of animal food. During the same period, antibiotics have been widely misused, abused and overused leading to selection of resistant diseases causing bacteria. This indiscriminate use of antibiotics is pushing one of the most beneficial and critical life-saving agents to near extinction and futility. It is akin to a grave emergency.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microorganism to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result, response to standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist longer, may spread to others, cause unfavourable treatment outcomes, and inflict huge economic losses to the individual, society, and the country. We cannot afford it. AMR is now widely recognised as the greatest challenge in the global fight against infectious diseases and protecting outcomes of modern technologies.

In absence of urgent actions for the containment of this unseen, insidious and silent pandemic, AMR is estimated to cause devastating impact within a generation’s time. Deaths due to drug-resistant diseases can increase to 10 million, globally, every year by 2050 from the current estimates of 1.27 million if no action is taken. Extensive analyses on data from 204 countries shows rapidly growing menace of AMR in developing and developed countries across the globe. Its role in impeding the achievement of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and thus human development is also worrying policymakers and global leaders. With disease-causing bacteria acquiring resistance against multiple antibiotics, they are becoming ‘superbugs’, leaving very few therapeutic options for the treating physicians.

Excessive and unwanted use of antibiotics in veterinary and agriculture sectors is indeed a huge cause of alarm. Most of the antibiotics used in these two sectors are also in use in human medicine. Since humans and animals share several pathogens, emergence and proliferation of resistant pathogens, the animal community thus reaches humans through food, direct contact and environment. Some of these pathogens demonstrate resistance to the last resort antibiotics in life threatening human infections.

Antibiotics are erroneously considered as cheap alternatives to biosecurity and sanitation in the animal sector. There is an urgent need to educate farmers on improving biosecurity. If need be, appropriate technical and materials support should be provided to them by the national and state authorities.

Awareness amongst users of antibiotics in both human and animal sectors is critical. Need of the hour is to bring about a change in behaviour of the prescribers and users culminating in rational use of these medicines. This is vital for preserving and assuring longevity of the antibiotics.

AMR is a complex multi-faceted phenomenon and is a result of several interlinked causes. Many of these are not fully understood yet and more research is needed to elucidate possible reasons and solutions. At the same time, AMR is not only a technical challenge but it also has political, administrative, financial, regulatory, educational, social and economic dimensions, all of which need to be addressed together and on a sustainable basis.

The complex and interlinking drivers of AMR have led international organisations and research communities to adopt the ‘one-health’ approach; that focuses on collaborative efforts by multiple sectors. India’s National Action Plan on AMR provided the framework for an effective and collaborative response to AMR in the country. During 2017-21, India’s AMR containment activities were to be guided by its first National Action Plan. As with other health issues, AMR activities got side-lined with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic worldwide.

India has initiated activities to develop an efficient second version of the National Action Plan on AMR. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has assisted national authorities in India in drafting the animal health component of its action plan for 2022-26. FAO, and many other international development partners shall be willing and available to assist India in implementation of the second version of the National Action Plan.

The vulnerability of the human race against AMR continues to be paramount with rapidly diminishing shield while the weapons with microbes grow. The challenges are enormous. The options are limited. Sustained preparedness is the key. A whole-of-society approach is mandatory to prevent this world from sliding into a dreadful post-antibiotics’ era where even a small injury can be fatal.

The article has been authored by Konda Reddy Chavva, officer-in-charge in India, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Rajesh Bhatia, Consultant, FAO.

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