About the Author

Gary M. Cohen, Executive Vice President of Global Health and President of the BD Foundation

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing health challenge

Posted on 13/02/2018 by Gary M. Cohen, Executive Vice President of Global Health and President of the BD Foundation

This blog was first published on NJToday on 5 February 2018.

The growing global public health challenge of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) cannot be understated.  By 2050, it is a predicted to account for 10 million deaths annually, more deaths than cancer is responsible for today.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines AMR as the ability of a microorganism (such as bacteria, viruses and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals, etc.) from working against it.

The effectiveness of antimicrobials is being reduced and challenged by microorganisms that have developed a resistance to drug treatments available today. AMR can be caused by a variety of factors but the overuse of these medicines in animals and humans is a key driver. Another is the improper use is of these medicines.

How does this happen?  When an animal or a person takes antibiotics for example, the helps kill off all susceptible bacteria in that animal or person’s body. While the treatment often eliminates the infection, bacteria resistant to the medicine can survive the treatment and are later able to easily outcompete bacteria that would otherwise keep the population of resistant bacteria in check.  Then, the resistant bacteria can spread to other people or animals nearby, compounding the challenge of fighting AMR.

The challenge of addressing AMR is not lost on biotechnology and medical technology companies most equipped to help the medical community curb AMR. The AMR Industry Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 biotechnology, diagnostic, generics, and research-based biopharmaceutical companies and trade associations, came together to think of new ways to combat AMR. They issued a global progress report in January to consider how industry can better control AMR.

The report, “Tracking Progress to Address AMR,” outlines best practices, opportunities, and gaps where further efforts are needed to address the threat of AMR.  Foremost, the report highlights the ongoing need for research & development activities to support the creation of new antimicrobials, vaccines and diagnostics. The report also indicates more work is needed to educate patients and providers about AMR – to ensure that patients who need antimicrobials have access to them, and to prevent patients who won’t benefit from these medicines from using them.  While this may seem obvious, WHO reports suggest that more than half of antibiotic use in humans considered unnecessary.

There are other tools to curb AMR that haven’t received as much attention as developing new drugs. Those include: infection prevention and control, diagnostic testing and surveillance and monitoring of antimicrobial resistance.

Preventing infection in the first place is the best way to stop someone from contracting an antimicrobial resistant infection. Increasing the use of best-in-class infection prevention practices can play a role in reducing the incidence of infection and the need for antimicrobials. Best practices could include proper surgical preparation, use of clean, safe tools for administering drugs and drawing blood, and even basic hygienic practices such as hand washing and the use of sterile surgical gloves in a health care setting.

Diagnostic testing is critical for identifying the microbe causing the infection to understand whether it may be susceptible to antibiotics or antiviral treatments. The use of diagnostic tests help doctors know which antimicrobial treatments to prescribe that will most likely lead to the best outcome.

Finally, the surveillance and monitoring of infection is critical so health care providers are better alerted when a patient with a resistant infection needs to be quarantined to prevent the spread of a particular pathogen in a hospital or community.

BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) has pledged to do more to combat AMR globally and in our own backyard. One of BD’s core initiatives in 2018 is to convene global health leaders to join us in a new inclusive, non-branded campaign called “I am Resistance Fighter” to drive awareness around AMR. The campaign aims to share stories and experiences from those on the frontlines of health care, as well as AMR survivors, to educate people about how individual actions can contribute to and help prevent AMR. We will shine a spotlight on what people are doing to combat AMR and hope to inspire others to follow their lead— from healthcare providers and microbiologists to hospital workers, patients, and more.

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