Drug-resistant infections, the next pandemic - warns FAO
As antimicrobial resistance (AMR) drastically rises threatening to turn into the next pandemic with serious implications for global health, agri-food systems and economies, FAO is calling on actors across all sectors, from farmers to cooks, producers to consumers, to accelerate efforts to prevent the spread of drug-resistant microbes.
This World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (18-24 November), the Organization highlights that everyone has a role to play to combat AMR, including stakeholders across the food and agriculture sectors, and rolls out recommendations to curb the spread of AMR.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of microbes to persist or grow in the presence of drugs designed to inhibit or kill them. The process is accelerated by the use of antimicrobials designed to kill unwanted pathogens in humans, animals and crops. In particular, the use of antimicrobials in human and animal health is fuelling resistance.
Currently, at least 700 000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases. More and more common diseases, including respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections, are becoming harder to treat. Drug resistance is also increasingly threatening our agri-food systems and global food security.
COVID-19 has shown us that human, animal and environmental health are more interdependent than ever before. Pathogens affecting one area can exacerbate challenges in others and have an enormous impact on how we prevent and control health threats to safeguard the world. AMR is one of these global threats, and it is potentially even more dangerous than COVID-19. It is profoundly changing life as we know it.
"Just like the COVID-19 pandemic, AMR is no longer a future threat. It is happening here and now, and is affecting us all", said Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo. "Around the world people, animals and plants are already dying of infections that cannot be treated - even with our strongest antimicrobial treatments. If AMR is left unchecked, the next pandemic we face could be bacterial and much deadlier if the drugs needed to treat it do not work". FAO's work on AMR is implemented in coordination with WHO and OIE using a "One Health" approach.
AMR in food and agriculture
Food and agriculture sectors have a pivotal role to play in tackling AMR. In many parts of the world, antimicrobial use is far greater in animals than in humans, and it is rapidly increasing as our populations grow and global demand for food increases.
AMR is spreading quicker than scientists can develop new antimicrobials and is threatening global food systems, food security, food safety, health systems and economies. Our only solution is to take strategic action to keep the antimicrobials we have working. It is not too late, but time is running out to stop this devastation from worsening, FAO warned today.
On 23 November, the UN Agency will launch a new community of behaviour change practitioners to design solutions that make it easier for people to use antimicrobials appropriately and prevent disease effectively. Combining a wealth of insights from farmers and other food chain actors, veterinarians, epidemiologists, AMR experts and behavioural scientists, this community of practice will work together to ‘nudge' behaviours at both farm and policy level - to help slow down the spread of AMR.
A new strategy launched this year by the European Commission aims to reduce the sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals by 50% in the next 10 years. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) linked to the excessive and inappropriate use of antimicrobials in animal and human healthcare leads to an estimated 33,000 human deaths in the EU/EEA every year21, and considerable healthcare costs. It is believed that better animal welfare improves animal health and food quality, reduces the need for medication and can help preserve biodiversity.
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