Anti-microbial overuse ‘a public health emergency’


    ROME: Anti-microbial resistance is “a major though silent global threat to human and animal health, with implications for both food safety and food security and the economic well-being of millions of farming households,” three key United Nations health and food agencies said in a joint statement.

    “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,” the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organization for Animal Health warned in a joint statement last week.

    The UN bodies explained that problems arises from the indiscriminate, excessive use of synthetic products, such as anti-microbial medicines, to kill diseases in the agricultural and food systems, which may be a major conduit of the anti-microbial resistance (AMR) that causes 700,000 human deaths each year and has the potential to raise this number to up to 10 million annually.

    AMR is a natural phenomenon of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are no longer sensitive to the effects of anti-microbial medicines, like antibiotics, that were previously effective in treating infections.

    Nevertheless, commercial practices meant to increase benefits have been leading to the dramatic fact that these drugs are more and more used to practically solely promote animal growth.

    ‘More deadly than cancer’

    “But 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,” added the agency leaders.

    According to them, if left unchecked, AMR will make chemotherapy and common dental and surgical procedures increasingly risky, as infectious complications become difficult or impossible to treat. The gains in health and longer lives of the 20th century are at stake.

    In addition to the growing high number of human deaths each year that are estimated to be related to anti-microbial resistant infections, the AMR further poses a major threat to food safety and security, livelihoods, animal health and welfare, economic and agricultural development worldwide, warned United Nations specialized agencies.

    The global use of synthetic products to indiscriminately kill bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi in agricultural and food systems requires a concerted effort to map, understand and mitigate the risks of AMR, says FAO.

    Contaminated food

    “As foods from around the globe are today frequently contaminated with antibiotic resistant E. coli and Salmonella, measures which encourage the prudent use of anti-microbials are likely to be extremely useful in reducing the emergence and spread of AMR,” the agencies said.

    Use of anti-microbials solely to promote animal growth should be phased out, the UN agencies stressed. Instead, alternatives to antibiotics to enhance animal health—including enhanced vaccination programs—should be more vigorously pursued.

    In addition, anti-microbial residues in the environment, especially in water sources, should be tracked in the same way as other hazardous substances, the report urged.

    “Given our current limited knowledge of transmission pathways, options to mitigate the global spread of AMR involve controlling its emergence in various environments, and minimizing the opportunities for AMR to spread along what may be the most important routes,” they added.


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