RESISTANCE

Antimicrobials our life, use wisely

Already, some key antibiotics are no longer effective in the treatment of diseases.

In Summary
  • The effects of antimicrobial resistance are already being felt and are expected to worsen if we do not use available antimicrobials prudently.
  • Antimicrobials are a key cog in our lives and we should take care of them to lengthen their potency lifespan.

History is punctuated by pandemics that have tormented humanity. Although only human mortalities stand out, animals too have been decimated by pandemics, resulting in famines. Today this is not the case because we have antimicrobials.

With the discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic, in 1928, the world was able to vanquish an enemy that had claimed millions of lives. Antibiotics emerged as a potent tool in the fight against infectious diseases. So powerful were antibiotics that they were christened ‘Magic Bullets’. This was based on their ability to selectively “identify” and “kill” bacteria with the might of a gun bullet. The discovery of antibiotics heralded the advent of the ‘Antibiotic age’.

Today many medicines have been discovered targeting bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic diseases in humans and animals. This has positively impacted lives. For humans, the quality of life has improved, lifespan increased and suffering from diseases significantly reduced. For animals, antimicrobials have improved reproduction and productivity and subsequently food security and farmers’ income.

Antimicrobials are the centre of public health and livestock sectors; without them the two would tumble down. The livestock industry is today the greatest consumer of antimicrobials globally. Unfortunately, antimicrobials, important as they are, have not been used well. Misuse of antimicrobials has resulted in the microorganisms developing resistance to the initially effective medicines. This phenomenon is known as antimicrobial resistance and it threatens not only public health but animal health sector as well.

Already, some key antibiotics are no longer effective in the treatment of diseases. You have probably heard of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in humans. Similarly,there is an increasing resistance towards antibiotics commonly used in the treatment of animals. While the mutation of micro-organisms is a natural process, human beings through the misuse of antimicrobials are fuelling this process.

The effects of antimicrobial resistance are already being felt and are expected to worsen if we do not use available antimicrobials prudently. This will be seen in increased hospital stays, use of costly antimicrobials to save lives and an increase in deaths. Farmers are likely to see an increase in veterinary costs, lowered production, animal deaths and reduced profits.

The World Organization for Animal Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization agreed to work together to tackle the global threat posed by antimicrobial resistance. The world has set aside November 18-24 every year to raise awareness on prudent use of antimicrobials to avert this doomsday scenario.

The State Department of Livestock, together with the Ministry of Health and other ministries, departments, agencies and development partners, through a ‘one health approach’ have made progress towards prevention and containment of AMR. The National Policy and the National Action Plan for prevention and containment of AMR are a clear testament of the government’s commitment to addressing the threat caused by resistant pathogens.

Through the national secretariat, many counties have been sensitised and have prioritised antimicrobial resistance in their annual work plans. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate, a state corporation, is sensitising the public on prudent use of veterinary drugs while enforcing regulations on antimicrobial use.

Antimicrobials are a key cog in our lives and we should take care of them to lengthen their potency lifespan. The public should not buy and administer antimicrobials to their animals; this is likely to result in misuse by way of overdosing or underdosing, which have been shown to precipitate antimicrobial resistance. It can also be fatal to the animal considering the limited knowledge of farmers on how drugs work. Medicines require proper handling and farmers should only buy what a veterinary doctor has prescribed after examining their animals.

As we celebrate this year’s World Antimicrobial Awareness Week under the themes ‘Antimicrobials: Handle with care’ and ‘United to preserve antimicrobials’, let’s be alive to the fact that antimicrobials are our lives and we are therefore duty bound to use them prudently.