• In Africa, research findings estimate that 4.1 million people could die of failing drug treatments by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.
• The improper use of antimicrobial medicines enables bacteria, viruses, fungi and microscopic parasites to mutate into superbugs.
Unep and the World Health Organization have joined a continental campaign to end antimicrobial resistance in Africa.
The campaign, led by six entities, comes as cases of drug-resistant HIV, TB and malaria rise across the continent.
The campaign was launched during the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) Campaign for Africa.
It calls antimicrobial resistance the “silent public health threat" in all countries in Africa.
Antimicrobials include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics and are used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants.
In Africa, research findings estimate that 4.1 million people could die of failing drug treatments by 2050 unless urgent action is taken.
Malaria, which kills 3,000 children in Africa every day, is increasingly showing resistance to once-effective treatment options.
Tuberculosis is also becoming resistant to the drugs typically used to treat it. Current studies indicate that drug resistance to HIV is increasing and could cause 890,000 deaths by 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa.
“If we don’t act now, we could see the continent roll back the gains in health we have made through immense effort and sacrifice. We must stop endangering our future and think before we pop a pill in our mouth,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, one of the partners of the campaign.
The others are the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the African Union, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
An estimated one in 10 medicines globally is substandard or falsified, and the African region is one of the most affected in the world.
Without proper medical supervision, people often stop their drug course too soon or they double-dose rather than keep to a prescribed strict time interval for appropriate drug-taking.
This improper use of antimicrobial medicines enables bacteria, viruses, fungi and microscopic parasites to mutate into superbugs that are resistant to the drugs designed to kill them.
These superbugs can travel across countries, resulting in thousands, or potentially millions, of deaths.
Their treatment is resulting in prolonged hospital stays and the need for more expensive medicines, leading to huge additional costs in health expenditure by governments and individuals.
Improper disposal of pharmaceutical, hospital, abattoir, human and animal waste also contaminates the environment with antimicrobials and antimicrobial-resistant organisms.
“Healthy environment provides us with efficient mechanisms to prevent and control diseases which lead to less use of antimicrobials; as human beings, animals and crops are less exposed to microbes," said Dr Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Unep's regional director for Africa.