Only global action will save modern medicine
Antibiotic Resistance This year marks the first ever Antibiotics Awareness Week. The fact that the WHO has now recognised this as a global week of action is further evidence of how important and serious the issue of antimicrobial resistance has become.
AMR has crept up upon all of us, and now poses a catastrophic threat to the entire world. The sheer scale of the threat is quite remarkable. It is estimated that at least 25,000 people per year in Europe die of infections caused by resistant bacteria, and €1.5 billion in hospital and societal costs. Globally, by 2050 drug-resistant infections could cause 10 million extra deaths a year and have a cumulative cost of US$ 100 trillion.
We have spent decades developing antibiotics which have allowed us to perform intricate and otherwise dangerous operations such as caesarean sections, treatment in intensive care and cancer therapy in a safe and effective way, as well as killing off serious bacterial infections which could have otherwise lead to severe illness or even death.
However, now we are seeing the antibiotics we have becoming scarcer as the bugs become resistant to the drugs currently available. The world’s medicine cabinet is looking a lot barer than it did 20 years ago. And we are already seeing drug-resistant infections such as gonorrhoea spreading throughout parts of the UK, a place where we pride ourselves on having one of the most developed health care systems in the world.
So, what are we doing about this? Well, I am pleased that the issue of AMR seems to be slowly creeping into people’s subconscious. The more I talk to staff, patients, and other healthcare professionals the more the topic of AMR seems to be coming up. In fact, last year, the public voted for the £10 million Longitude Prize to tackle the issue of a lack of diagnostics for antibiotics, and the work on this is now underway.
I am constantly asked what we are doing to tackle the growing threat of AMR. Well, let me tell you, this year, the UK has been pivotal in driving forward the international efforts to tackle the issue.
On the agenda
By canvassing support across the globe, we are working to ensure that AMR is on the agenda at the 2016 UN General Assembly, as well as working closely with other G7 and G20 countries to accelerate progress in the field. The Prime Minister has just announced a brand new fund with China for innovation in the field of AMR, and, on a domestic level, we are working with GPs and the public to reduce unnecessary prescribing, as well as encouraging patients to adopt good hygiene, visit their pharmacies before going to a GP, and also using delayed prescriptions, to stop unnecessary antibiotics being used.
All this needs to be shared across the globe and we need to look at how we can learn from others. And more and more we are focusing on this pivotal issue of antibiotic ‘stewardship’. The dictionary definition of stewardship reads as “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving”. To me, this sums it up. Antibiotics; our lifeline to modern medicine, are something we must all care for and preserve. And now that this message seems to be seeping into peoples’ psyches, this is the time to step up our communal efforts even more.
Through good stewardship of our antibiotics, we will preserve them for the next generation. And we are committed to this. We are investing heavily in projects such as the £195 million Fleming Fund, where we will work with low income countries across the globe to encourage better laboratories and surveillance.
Domestically, we must also improve local leadership and accountability and embed good antibiotic stewardship across our own healthcare system. We need to make sure that all health and care staff receive the education and training they need in their day to day work in order to promote best practice. We are working with the Care Quality Commission to explore how infection prevention and control and antimicrobial stewardship aspects can be built into the key lines of enquiry used in their routine inspections.
In short, we need to produce a fit for purpose model, where antibiotic stewardship is firmly embedded in all local AMR plans, and indeed all national ones.
So, the good work continues, but there is much more to do. I encourage everyone play their part in this global challenge. The coming months and years will indeed be pivotal in our efforts to save modern medicine.