International and African organisations should unite to fight

26Jan 2021
The Guardian
International and African organisations should unite to fight
  • antimicrobial drug resistance

​​​​​​​In Africa, research findings estimate that 4.1 million people could die of failing drug treatments by 2050 unless urgent action is taken. Antimicrobial resistance is a matter of concern for Africa because of the public health threat on African citizens and the negative socio-economic-

-impact on wellbeing and livelihoods.  

The global partners cemented their collaboration recently with a joint statement by eight senior representatives on the first day of the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) Campaign for Africa, noting the “silent public health threat that AMR poses in all countries in Africa” and expressed concern for the “uncontrolled antimicrobial use across the African continent.”

An antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth.  Antimicrobial medicines can be grouped according to the microorganisms they act primarily against. For example, antibiotics are used against bacteria, and antifungals are used against fungi.   

The main classes of antimicrobial agents are disinfectants  non-selective agents, such as bleach, which kill a wide range of microbes on non-living surfaces to prevent the spread of illness, antiseptics  which are applied to living tissue and help reduce infection during surgery, and antibiotics  which destroy microorganisms within the body.  

With antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatening development and health in Africa, six international and continental organisations are launching the first partnership of its kind to combat this public health crisis on the continent.

Antimicrobials include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics and are used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants. Antimicrobial agents have saved millions of lives, protected animal health and welfare as well as food security. But their rampant misuse in health settings and agriculture is killing 700 000 people annually around the world. While data on AMR are sorely lacking on the continent, there are signs that resistance to commonly prescribed antimicrobials is significant. Malaria, which kills 3000 children in Africa every day, is increasingly showing resistance to once-effective treatment options. Tuberculosis is becoming resistant to the drugs typically used to treat it. Current studies indicate that drug resistance to HIV is increasing and could cause 890 000 deaths by 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa.

An estimated one in ten medicines globally is substandard or falsified, and the African region is one of the most affected in the world. In markets and on street corners, people are buying antimicrobials of unknown quality. Without proper medical supervision, people often stop their drug course too soon or they double-dose rather than keep to a prescribed strict time interval for appropriate drug-taking.  

We need immediate and sustained action from governments and all partners across the human, animal, and environmental sectors. Together, we can prevent infections, ensure antimicrobials are used appropriately, and limit the transmission of drug-resistant infections. We are at a critical time to change the way we use antimicrobials for humans, animals and plants and reduce the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most pressing health challenges Africa faces. If we don’t act now, we could see the continent roll back the gains in health we have made through immense effort and sacrifice.  

Countries and nations must work collaboratively to curb the emergence and spread of AMR by adopting a one health approach, enhancing human and animal health systems, promoting integrated surveillance, strengthening infection prevention and control in healthcare and farms. Let us all unite to preserve antimicrobials to ensure Health for All by All.

We all have an important role to protect the efficiency of antimicrobials to ensure animal, human and environmental health. Each country needs to make the commitment towards ensuring antimicrobials are used prudently and responsibly; by applying international standards, guidelines in national legislation for the global harmonisation, surveillance and to control unregulated production, distribution and use of antimicrobials.

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