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Joining hands to promote ‘Handling Antibiotics with Care’ in Africa

Regional Tripartite and AU collaborates to celebrate World Antibiotic Awareness Week

©FAO/Luis Tato

24 November 2019, Nairobi – With the effectiveness of antibiotics decreasing due to their overuse and misuse, it is crucial for human, animal, environment health sectors to work together to combat the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to secure both health and food security.

To raise awareness and promote good practices throughout the society in Africa, the Africa Tripartite One Health Regional Coordination Group* the African Union (AU)**, and the Regional Economic Communities in collaboration with the Government of Kenya and members of Kenya AMR Secretariat, joined forces to celebrate the first Africa Regional World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW), under the theme ‘Handle Antibiotics with Care'.

The week-long event highlighted the importance and the urgency of the impacts antimicrobial resistance have on humans, animals, and our eco-system. To reach out to different AMR stakeholders, including farmers, students, journalists, and regional policy makers, WAAW rolled out different regional and national events. The events included a press conference, high-level advocacy event, coordination meeting, farmer field day, symposium, and an outreach event with One Health students in Kenya. This year, WAAW focused on creating dialogues between different sectors and groups of people, with creative messaging through an AMR march and live skit performances.

“2019 marks a symbolic year, as this is the first time WAAW is celebrated at a regional level, and it is also the first time for the Regional Tripartite and AU to jointly organize WAAW. Through this collaborative campaign, we continue to strengthen the commitment of regional stakeholders to mitigate the risk of AMR and work across sectors, as a One Health team, to support effective implementation of AMR National Action Plans at country level,” stated Scott Newman, FAO Senior Animal Health and Production Officer

The Regional Tripartite and African Union Collaboration
Under the global tripartite framework, the African AMR stakeholders are actively collaborating to implement a One Health approach to AMR interventions in the region.

The Africa Tripartite One Health Regional Coordination Group has prioritized AMR as an important technical area to be addressed together with key partners including but not limited to the AU and Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Moreover, after discussion and consultation with the participants from the Regional Tripartite, AU agencies, and RECs at the WAAW regional coordination meeting, it was agreed to create an ‘African Continental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance’ to better coordinate continent-wide activities of inter-governmental agencies working on the prevention and control of antimicrobial resistance in Africa.

“The best way to make an impact is for agencies to develop a strategy with specific actions they will take, and make sure those actions complement each other’s work. When we collaborate closely together and share resources, there will be a much bigger impact than when we work separately,” quoted Jay Varma, Senior Advisor of Africa CDC on behalf of the AU Task Force on AMR.

AMR and World Antibiotic Awareness Week
AMR happens when microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites change and become resistant to antimicrobial drugs, including antibiotics, to which they were originally susceptible to. This can be due to different factors such as the misuse or overuse of antimicrobials and exposure to falsified drugs. Moreover, antibiotics present in the environment at low concentrations can accumulate in human populations via long-term exposure to drinking water, food, or consumer goods with unknown health consequences.

In order to tackle the AMR issue in a holistic approach, FAO is supporting member states to develop and implement their National AMR Action Plans based on the FAO AMR Global Action Plan. The 4 pillars of the action plan are to (i) improve awareness on AMR, (ii) develop capacity for surveillance and monitoring of AMR and AMU, (iii) Strengthen governance, and (iv) promote good practices in food and agricultural systems including the prudent use of antimicrobials.

Since 2015, every year World Antibiotic Awareness Week is celebrated to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, farmers, health workers and policy makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance. As AMR requires a multi-sectoral approach, WAAW brings together sectors from human, animal, and environmental health to strengthen the One Health spirit into AMR interventions.

One Health
One Health is an integrated approach that calls for increased multidisciplinary and inter-sectoral cooperation and communication to address health risks at the human-animal-ecosystem interface. One Health recognizes that the health and well-being of humans, animals and ecosystems are intimately linked, and when human, veterinary, and natural resource disciplines work in isolation from each other, it jeopardizes biodiversity and ecosystems as well as the health of livestock, wildlife, and people.

The sheer magnitude and complexity of the antimicrobial resistance crisis and antimicrobial pollution results in the need for a coordinated and integrated One Health multi-sectoral approach inclusive of the public & animal health sectors, the agricultural production sectors (crops, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture & livestock), and the environment & ecosystem sectors.

In the case of AMR, both antimicrobials and resistant bacteria can make their way into the environment from waste water, hospitals, farms or other sources. Antibiotics in the environment can affect the overall composition and diversity of the microbial community crucial for the performance of important ecological functions such as nutrient cycling, decomposition, and primary productivity in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Antibiotics present in the environment at low concentrations can accumulate in human populations via long-term exposure to drinking water, food, or consumer goods with unknown health consequences. Many dimensions of environmental antibiotic resistance and pollution are still unknown and require further research but we know that before this crisis, antimicrobials and resistant bacteria were not in ecological systems as they are now.

* Africa Tripartite One Health Regional Coordination Group: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), International Organisation of Animal Health (OIE), World Health Organization (WHO).
** African Union: Africa Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (Africa CDC), Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR)

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