Over 1.2 million people died from drug-resistant infections in 2019: Study
Illustrative image. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Are you one of those who prefers to go down the antibiotic route when you’re down with a viral flu? Do you find yourself justifying it by saying it’s better this way?

Well, as nearly 600 doctors and healthcare experts heard at a conference in Dubai, it may not be the right option.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the 7th UAE International Conference on Antimicrobial Resistance (ICAMR), organised by the Ministry of Health and Prevention, conference chair and internal medicine specialist Dr Najiba Abdul Razzaq, said the threat of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) worldwide is real.

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“AMR is the ability of microbes, whether bacteria, virus, fungi or prorzoa, to survive despite the presence of antimicrobial medication designed to eliminate them. Consequently, these antimicrobial drugs will no longer be effective and infections in human beings become difficult or impossible to treat,” she said.

She explained that while AMR is a natural phenomenon, the speed of “resistance development” is what is concerning.

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Anti-Microbial resistance explained. Image Credit: Vijith Pullikal/Gulf News

“Its spread is accelerated by the improper and excessive use of anti-microbials across human, animal and plant domains, like antibiotics, for example, if an antibiotic is prescribed for a viral infection even though it’s not effective. Moreover, the limited development pipeline for new antibiotics exacerbates the challenge of addressing resistance,” she noted.

Silent pandemic

The conference examined the worldwide repercussions of AMR and healthcare-associated infections (HAI) on both public health and the global economy. “It presented potential remedies to combat the silent pandemic of AMR and HAI, incorporating the most recent treatment protocols, technological advancements, innovative strategies, vaccination initiatives and antimicrobial stewardship programmes,” said Dr Razzaq.

Additionally, the conference also looked into alternative approaches to antimicrobial therapy. “A noteworthy aspect is the exploration of behavioural science and strategies to influence human behaviour, fostering improved outcomes in the context of AMR and HAI,” the specialist said.

She also spoke of the UAE’s national action plan that is aligned with World Health Organisation (WHO) strategies to combat AMR, with a specific emphasis on research. She stressed the need to shed more light on best practices to improve the utilisation of antimicrobial medicines through rapid diagnostics and better vigilance, besides proper infection control in critical areas and the hospital environment.

What WHO says

WHO lists AMR among the top 10 threats to global health. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the effectiveness of AMRs which include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics, is now in jeopardy because a number of AMR treatments that once worked no longer do so as micro-organisms have become resistant to them.

Micro-organisms that develop resistance to commonly used anti-microbials are referred to as superbugs.

According to WHO, bacterial AMR was directly responsible for 1.27 million deaths in 2019 globally. By 2050, this figure is expected to go up to 10 million annually.

Anti-microbial resistance in mycobacterium tuberculosis, malaria parasites, viruses and HIV is becoming a reality that could increase human suffering. It could also deal a huge blow to the world economy, due to productivity losses, increased healthcare costs and rise in poverty, thes international bodies have warned.

Earlier this month, WHO published a list of Medically Important Antimicrobials (MIA) for human medicine (WHO MIA List) as a risk management tool that can be used to support decision-making to minimise the impact of anti-microbial use in non-human sectors on AMR in humans. The list is a guide to international anti-microbial stewardship efforts and complements the WHO AWaRe (Access, Watch, Reserve) framework and antibiotic book which provide guidance on appropriate use of essential antibiotics.