'Implement interventions to secure antibiotics' future'

 Poonam Khetrapal Singh. (DH Photos)

The World Health Organization has warned that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is expected to kill 10 million people worldwide annually by 2050, and urged health authorities in its South-East Asia region to adopt and implement high-impact interventions to combat the menace.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human and animal health accelerates the emergence and spread of bacteria resistant to it, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Poonam Khetrapal Singh said on Tuesday.

With World Antibiotic Awareness Week being observed globally, she stressed on effective monitoring of antibiotic consumption as per standard treatment guidelines, strengthening infection prevention and control (IPC) in health care facilities, and called for scaling up political leadership, advocacy and coordination to fight AMR.

"Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global crisis that threatens the future of our most precious drugs -- antibiotics.

"Across the world, AMR kills an estimated 7,00,000 people annually, including 2,30,000 from multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. By 2050, unless urgent action is taken, AMR is expected to kill 10 million annually. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for a substantial proportion of the AMR burden," Singh said.

Noting that the member states are taking decisive action and implementing national multi-sectoral action plan to address AMR, which since 2014 has been a flagship priority, the WHO regional director said the region's progress must be sustained.

"It must also be accelerated -- an outcome the new WHO-convened Regional Taskforce for AMR will help achieve. In pursuit of the region's flagship priority on AMR as well as its quest to achieve universal health coverage, health authorities region-wide should adopt and implement several high-impact interventions," Singh said.

Listing out some initiatives, she said WHO's AWaRe classification tool should be fully harnessed.

The AWaRe tool groups antibiotics into three main categories - 'Access', 'Watch' and 'Reserve' -- based on their strength and potential impact on AMR.

By adopting the tool's classification scheme, health authorities can more effectively monitor antibiotic consumption, align their essential medicines list (EML) with WHO's Model EML and update or establish treatment guidelines that increase the appropriate use of antibiotics, Singh said.

She called for increased focus on strengthening infection prevention and control in healthcare facilities.

Clean water, adequate sanitation and essential equipment are all crucial to providing healthcare that is of adequate quality and which minimizes health care-associated infections. So too are health workers and facility staff that are trained and implement infection prevention and control.

All efforts should be made to ensure that health facilities from primary level and above are fit for purpose, and do not serve as AMR incubators, she said.

"Political leadership, advocacy and coordination on AMR should be scaled up. From promoting the appropriate prescription of antibiotics to emphasizing the need to reduce antibiotic usage in the animal sector, leaders from all sectors should drive home an important point: The future of antibiotics is in our hands," Singh said.

Each member state has signed on to the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System, a key initiative that will advance AMR-related research.

Region-wide, the Tripartite Collaboration on AMR, which comprises WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), is addressing vulnerabilities in the human and animal health sectors, as well as in agriculture Ensuring antibiotics are used rationally continues to be a core priority.

"Together we can secure the future of our most precious drugs and rollback the global AMR crisis. We must act decisively. We must act now," Singh said. 

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