WHO calls for concrete action on antibiotic resistance, tells nations to turn pledges into action

In her remarks at the three-day international meeting on antimicrobial resistance, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia called for concrete steps to fight the menace

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NEW DELHI: The World Health Organization (WHO) has sought urgent and concrete measures to arrest the reducing effectiveness of antibiotics, cautioning that if enough was not done now, common bacterial infections such as skin sores or diarrhea would become untreatable and fatal.

“Now is the time to turn pledges into action, stake out a clear roadmap and take action to prevent further erosion of our health security. The effectiveness of existing antibiotics is extremely valuable, and we must do all we can to preserve it,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said in her opening remarks at the three-day international meeting on ‘Combating Antimicrobial Resistance: Public Health Challenge and Priority’, on February 23, 2016. Ministers of health from countries in the Region and international experts are attending the meeting.

Antimicrobial Resistance is a threat to everyone. Inappropriate use of antibiotics – whether through taking them when they are not required; taking an incomplete course; or taking them too regularly – makes bacterial infections immune to antibiotics. Globally 700 000 people die every year as a result of once-treatable health conditions.

In the South-East Asia Region, health sector gaps coupled with dense populations and sub-optimal sanitation contributes to a breeding ground for bacterial infections. This is already leading to loss of lives, long-term suffering, disability, and reduced productivity and earnings. Treatment is becoming more difficult and is consuming more time and resources than it once did. Antibiotic resistance is becoming a massive problem in a Region where health systems are already overstretched, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Governments must take strong measures to stop over-the-counter availability of antibiotics, while strengthening and enforcing legislation to prevent the manufacture, sale and distribution of substandard antibiotics. These measures must be accompanied with campaigns to make behavioral and cultural changes in prescribers and patients so that antibiotics are no longer considered the first treatment option. Measures are also needed to stem the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, including in livestock and fisheries industries.

In May last year the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution and endorsed a Global Action Plan on AMR. The problem is global, as inappropriate use of antibiotics in one country or region can lead to the evolution of bugs that have the potential to kill anywhere.

In 2011, health ministers of all countries in the Region adopted the Jaipur Declaration on Antimicrobial Resistance, which calls for national action plan to combat the problem. These national action plans now need to be aligned to the global action plan. We need to ensure all countries in South-East Asia Region combat the serious threat of AMR with the urgency it needs.

The Regional Director called for stronger commitment for building momentum within the countries of the Region to reverse Antimicrobial Resistance. We have raised awareness; now is the time to turn pledges into action, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.