Every year a number of – potentially life-saving – drugs become redundant because of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This rise of the superbug – or evolution of a bacterium that outpaces the efficacy of a medicine – is a global menace that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates will cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050. That number is expected to supersede cancer-driven fatalities.
AMR, or a bacterium’s state of resistance, occurs naturally in response to the use of medicines that prevent and treat bacterial infections. This can have deadly consequences. As antimicrobials lose their effectiveness and pathogens survive and spread their resistance, minor infections could become life-threatening, serious infections could become impossible to treat, and many routine medical procedures could become too risky to perform, explains the 2016 paper Review on Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling Drug-resistant Infections Globally.
The report adds that if antimicrobials are used inappropriately – for less time than recommended by healthcare professionals – it creates pathways for the pathogens to grow, evolve and learn how to resist medicines. This phenomenon has nothing to do with taking antibiotics too often. It is the result of the virus’ global exposure and evolution.
Pfizer, which plays a committed role in raising awareness and stemming the growth of AMR, launched a number of activations in the UAE during the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, from November 18-24, to get the public up to date on practical ways to safeguard themselves. Among these activities was a 60-second educational video, which was played at Vox and Reel Cinemas across the UAE, to highlight the importance of handwashing as a preventive measure.
The company has one of the industry’s largest and most diverse portfolios of antimicrobials and works on the fight against AMR through active stewardship to ensure patients receive the correct antibiotic, according to independent guidelines, only if needed and for the right duration. It also develops and introduces innovative surveillance tools to help physicians better understand current resistance patterns.
The World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan on AMR also recognises the importance of health professionals in curbing this threat. It says: “Healthcare professionals need to be up to date with the latest scientific literature and information, and they must have the ability to accurately identify the type of infection at hand. On an individual basis, they must not yield to pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics and ensure that they are not under any incentives to supply these medications. From a broader perspective, points of care such as hospitals and clinics must meet hygiene protocols to prevent and control infections within the facilities.”
The fight against AMR is a global one. The WHO Global Action Plan on AMR explains that to slow the spread of these infections, “[it] requires a collaborative approach across the research and development community, policy makers, insurance providers, on top of healthcare providers. They must all emphasise antimicrobial stewardship, that is, ensuring that patients receive the correct antibiotic.”
It is only by working together that the scourge of AMR can be managed; it all begins with information and awareness.
Here are four commonly held incorrect beliefs about AMR.
1. AMR occurs when the body becomes resistant to antimicrobials.
This is a common misconception; it is actually the pathogen (bacteria, fungi, or virus) itself that can develop resistance to treatment, not the human body, explains Pfizer.
2. AMR is only a problem for people who take antimicrobials frequently.
This is not the case; anyone, of any age, in any country can become infected by drug-resistant pathogens. Even though overuse of antimicrobials can increase the spread of AMR, it is the pathogen rather than the person that develops resistance to treatment, the paper adds.
3. To minimise the risk of resistance, it is good practice to stop taking antimicrobials as soon as you feel better.
Absolutely not. It is important to follow the advice of your healthcare professional and to continue to take the course of medication for as long as directed by them, explains the World Health Organisation’s Antimicrobial Resistance Factsheet.
4. There isn’t anything we can do to slow the spread of AMR.
Wrong. Everyone has a role to play in helping to slow the spread of AMR. You can personally help advance efforts against resistance by only taking antimicrobials when needed and exactly as prescribed by your healthcare professional, keeping up to date with vaccinations, never sharing your antimicrobial medication with others, and washing your hands regularly, the factsheet adds.