How is our medicine threatening us?
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization antimicrobial resistance (AMR) refers to when micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) evolve resistance to antimicrobial substances like antibiotics. This can occur naturally through adaptation to the environment, but today the pace AMR happens is extremely rapid due to inappropriate and excessive use of antimicrobials.
“AMR has the potential to be even more deadly than cancer, to kill as many as 10 million people a year and, according to a recent review undertaken by the United Kingdom, to cost the world economy as much as 100 trillion dollars annually,” said the Directors for the World Health Organization, FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
According to them, if left unchecked AMR will make chemotherapy and common dental and surgical procedures riskier as infectious complications become harder or even impossible to treat.
Besides the threat this poses to human health, AMR has become of increasing global concern due to its implications for both safety and food security and the wellbeing of farming households.
“The world is in the midst of a different kind of public health emergency, one that is just as dramatic but not as visible. Except for the headline-grabbing ‘superbugs’, anti-microbial resistance (AMR) doesn’t cause much public alarm,” said the heads of three international organizations dealing with human and animal health in a joint article published in the Huffington Post.
In the agriculture sector AMR has been widely spread due to antibiotics use not as medicines but as growth promoters. They are added in low concentrations to animal feed, despite being a widely discouraged practice.
It is estimated that the livestock sector consumes over 600,000 tones of antimicrobials per year and demand continues to grow. Nonetheless the global antimicrobial consumption in agriculture varies a lot, because only 42 nations have systems to collect data on their use. More so, the sector is expected to account for two-thirds of future growth of antimicrobial usage.
AMR poses greater risks to agriculture and food security includes the effectiveness of veterinary medicines, and rollback economic and food security gains made over the last 50 years. According to FAO, “the risk is particularly high in countries where legislation, regulatory surveillance and monitoring systems regarding the use of antimicrobials and the prevention and control of antimicrobial resistance, are weak or inadequate.”
In view of this challenge, FAO, WHO and OIE held las November a World Antibiotic Awareness Week to raise awareness of one of the biggest threats to global health.
The report summarizes the magnitude of AMR in the food and especially in the livestock sector and argues there is a need to support and pursue more research. They recommend the creation of standardized monitoring procedures and databases to take create risk assessment models and the prohibition of antimicrobials solely to promote animal growth, for example.
Finally, their report says that working collaboratively across all sectors of food production, from farm to table, will provide an essential contribution to an integrated on-health approach to fight AMR.