Drug-resistant infections threaten to become next pandemic

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2020: FAO rolls out recommendations to curb the spread of dangerous superbugs

18 November 2020, Rome - As antimicrobial resistance (AMR) drastically rises threatening to turn into the next pandemic with serious implications for global health, agri-food systems and economies, FAO is calling on actors across all sectors, from farmers to cooks, producers to consumers, to accelerate efforts to prevent the spread of drug-resistant microbes.

This World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (18-24 November), the Organization highlights that everyone has a role to play to combat AMR, including stakeholders across the food and agriculture sectors, and rolls out recommendations to curb the spread of AMR.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of microbes to persist or grow in the presence of drugs designed to inhibit or kill them. The process is accelerated by the use of antimicrobials designed to kill unwanted pathogens in humans, animals and crops. In particular, the use of antimicrobials in human and animal health is fuelling resistance.  

Currently, at least 700 000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases. More and more common diseases, including respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections, are becoming harder to treat. Drug resistance is also increasingly threatening our agri-food systems and global food security.

COVID-19 has shown us that human, animal and environmental health are more interdependent than ever before. Pathogens affecting one area can exacerbate challenges in others and have an enormous impact on how we prevent and control health threats to safeguard the world.  AMR is one of these global threats, and it is potentially even more dangerous than COVID-19. It is profoundly changing life as we know it.

"Just like the COVID-19 pandemic, AMR is no longer a future threat. It is happening here and now, and is affecting us all", said Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo. "Around the world people, animals and plants are already dying of infections that cannot be treated - even with our strongest antimicrobial treatments. If AMR is left unchecked, the next pandemic we face could be bacterial and much deadlier if the drugs needed to treat it do not work".  

FAO's work on AMR is implemented in coordination with WHO and OIE using a "One Health" approach.

AMR in food and agriculture

Food and agriculture sectors have a pivotal role to play in tackling AMR. In many parts of the world, antimicrobial use is far greater in animals than in humans, and it is rapidly increasing as our populations grow and global demand for food increases. 

AMR is spreading quicker than scientists can develop new antimicrobials and is threatening global food systems, food security, food safety, health systems and economies. Our only solution is to take strategic action to keep the antimicrobials we have working. It is not too late, but time is running out to stop this devastation from worsening, FAO warned today. 

On 23 November, the UN Agency will launch a new community of behaviour change practitioners to design solutions that make it easier for people to use antimicrobials appropriately and prevent disease effectively. Combining a wealth of insights from farmers and other food chain actors, veterinarians, epidemiologists, AMR experts and behavioural scientists, this community of practice will work together to ‘nudge' behaviours at both farm and policy level - to help slow down the spread of AMR.

About WAAW

Activities and initiatives for World Antimicrobial Awareness Week will be taking place around the world, including a WAAW Africa Twitter Chat on ‘How can we improve awareness for antimicrobial resistance in Africa?' on 21 November, a Brussels InfoPoint event for policy makers and the public to raise awareness on the urgency of tackling AMR on 24 November, and the Philippines will host an AMR One Health Summit and webinar series throughout the week.

Become an ally in the fight against AMR!

FAO outlined today actions for each group of key players that are critical in the fight against AMR: 

Farmers:  

1.    Thoroughly wash your hands, shoes and clothing before and after contact with animals. This helps eliminate germs that make animals and people sick.  

2.    Keep animals healthy. Healthy animals need fewer antimicrobials, which means lower treatment costs, improved food and livelihood security and fewer animal deaths. When it comes to agriculture, farmers can take these steps to keep animals healthy:  

Keep animal housing and outside areas that animals use clean. 

•Reduce the risk of spreading germs. Implement appropriate biosecurity measures.

Practice "all-in and all-out" on your farm to reduce the risk of new animals infecting the animals you already have.

Keep animal feed dry and stored safely away from rodents, birds, insects and other animals that can carry bacteria or other germs.

•Avoid stress for your animals.

•Help your animals stay healthy and avoid illness by ensuring they have good nutrition and clean water.

•Vaccinate! Ask your veterinary expert to help you administer important vaccines at the right times. 

3.    Seek animal health professional advice for the correct diagnosis and treatment, because using the wrong drug puts your animals, your family and you at risk of antimicrobial resistant infections.

4.    Spread the word, not the microbes! Tell other farmers and community members what you have learned about why it is important to use antimicrobials responsibly.  

5.    Only use pesticides as a last resort: Pesticides are not the only solution. Only use pesticides on your plants as a last resort for controlling diseases. 

Food chain workers and consumers: 

1.     Follow the ‘Four Cs' of food safety to help reduce the spread of superbugs and microorganisms that could make people ill. 

Cleaning - Wash your hands thoroughly before and after contact with food and livestock (especially after touching raw meat) and after using the toilet. Regularly clean surfaces that are used to prepare food. 

Cooking - Cook food well to kill dangerous germs. Do not reheat food multiple times. 

Chilling - Keep food chilled at the right temperature in the fridge and when being transported. 

Cross contamination - Keep food preparation and storage areas clean to avoid cross contamination. Store and process raw meats separately from other foods. 

2.     Start conversations! Discuss AMR with your colleagues, family, friends and community. Encourage your workplace to develop and adopt measures that help reduce the spread of AMR. 

3.     Help keep antimicrobials working for everyone! Follow your doctor's advice on whether you or your family need antibiotics. Always seek expert medical advice before taking antibiotics.

Policymakers: 

1.      Make AMR a priority.  Commit resources to tackling AMR and meeting national AMR action plan targets now. Ensure AMR is firmly on the political agenda.

2.      Involve stakeholders in policy decisions: Involving stakeholders from all stages of the food chain and across public and private sectors will help develop more effective policies and legislation.

Resource partners: 

1.     Support the Tripartite's work on AMR: the AMR Multi-Partner Trust Fund, led by FAO, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and World Health Organization (WHO), aims to scale up efforts to support countries in tackling AMR with a One Health approach. Support the Tripartite to expand this work to more countries and lead the fight against AMR. 

2.    Fill knowledge gaps: Support research and projects on AMR where evidence is lacking.

Health, agriculture, environment and veterinary educators and researchers:  

1.    Champion AMR as a key issue within your institutions: Make AMR a mandatory part of the curriculum. Lead cross-sectoral events and activities, including lectures, webinars and seminars to increase understanding of the spread of AMR across sectors. 

2.    Share knowledge across borders: Invite researchers from around the world to speak at your institutions and share ideas. 

Young people and student groups: 

1.      Raise your voice! Champion AMR as a priority for your student groups and associations and lead awareness raising activities such as walks, talks and events within your communities. 

2.    Share examples of your activities: Share examples of your advocacy work on social media and with journalists. Inspire other groups to take action and become ‘AMR champions'.

Private sector stakeholders: 

1.      Support AMR action in the workplace: Provide facilities in your workplaces, factories and sites that make it easier for employees to take action against AMR.

2.      Be a responsible manufacturer: Ensure that you and your suppliers are disposing of waste and wastewater correctly to help reduce the spread of superbugs. 

NGOs and civil society groups: 

1.         Incorporate AMR actions into existing and new projects: Many actions to reduce the spread of superbugs have benefits for health, sanitation, disease control and waste management. These actions can be inexpensive to implement. Incorporate these into existing initiatives. 

2.       Create dialogue: Discuss AMR and superbugs with the communities in which you work, and raise awareness of the need to keep antimicrobials working. 

Animal health professionals 

1.         Start conversations on good practices when treating animals with antimicrobial drugsWhen visiting farms and dispensing medicines, discuss AMR and animal health with farmers to open a dialogue on the issue.

2.        Be part of the AMR movement!  Create, join and talk at animal health clubs, groups and meetings in your area. Share examples of your work in AMR to encourage others to become AMR champions.

Photo: ©FAO/Luis Tato / FAO
Members of the AMR Surveillance Pilot Study among chicken layering farmers within Kiambu County analyze samples in a laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya.