15 June 2015

Antimicrobial Resistance: An Emerging Global Threat

The event, held on June 15th at the UN Headquarters in New York, highlighted the importance of working together across sectors to tackle this growing threat to health and global development. The event also showcased strong support from UN Member states, with representatives from several missions in attendance and actively participating in the dialogue.

With the global burden of infections that do not respond to treatment growing at an alarming pace, AMR threatens to undermine the effectiveness of modern medicine and impact the progress made in health, including for women and children’s health. Drug-resistant infections are already responsible for more than half a million deaths globally each year.

Misuse of antibiotics and other drugs have accelerated the emergence of so-called “super-bugs.” Poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food handling also promote this sort of resistance, threatening our ability to treat common diseases. The most vulnerable groups – hard to reach populations, women, newborns, children and adolescents – are also more vulnerable to super-bugs.

Lord Jim O’Neill, chairman of an independent review on AMR, established by the United Kingdom, stressed during the event that if AMR is not tackled by 2050, an extra 10 million people could be killed across the world by infections that were easily treated in the past. “By that date, it is estimated that drug-resistant infections could cost the world around $100 trillion in lost output,” he said.

Professor Anthony So of Duke University described AMR as an intersectional challenge where innovation and access are key. Many bottlenecks prevent the results of research and development from getting to those most in need, especially since there are few new antibiotics or diagnostic tools on the horizon.

The irresponsible and unregulated use of antibiotics in agriculture in most of the world was highlighted by panellist Ms. Maryn McKenna, a renowned journalist and author of a forthcoming book on AMR. The dangers of administering antibiotics to farm livestock have been recognized for almost half a century, and is particularly striking given that, in 2011, almost four times the volume of antibiotics were sold for meat and poultry production as for treating sick people.

A strong focus on responses to antimicrobial resistance in the new development era is crucial to maintaining the fragile health gains of the past 15 years. Effective antibiotics, vaccines and other drugs play a crucial role in the future success of public health interventions.

“There is an urgent need for innovation in the area of antibiotics and broader access to – but not excess use of – existing drugs”, stressed Nano Kuo, Senior Manager for Every Woman Every Child in the UN Secretary-General’s Office. “This will require investments and collaboration for both pharmaceutical innovation as well as financing approaches to ensure universal access to health care,” she added.

The spectre of wide scale drug resistance has recently attracted increased global concern and spurred international mobilization. Last week, the G7 leaders declared their commitment to develop and strengthen national action plans to combat AMR, following the endorsement of a Global Action Plan during the World Health Assembly, and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s adoption of a resolution on the use of antibiotics in agriculture.

The AMR Review recommends the creation of a $2 billion innovation fund to finance research and development of more effective drugs and vaccines, and financing mechanisms such as the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman Every Child will ensure alignment of health sector interventions with women’s empowerment, education, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, which will also help prevent drug-resistant infections.

As we transition into the sustainable development agenda, the updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health can be harnessed to help in the fight against drug-resistant infections through its focus on fostering innovation and multi-stakeholder partnerships, promoting the resilience of health systems and improving the quality and equity of health services.

AMR page breaker

The presentations from the event can be accessed via the links below:

A compilation of references for further reading can be accessed here: Starter Resources on Antimicrobial Resistance