Prominent global leaders in science, industry and government meet to step up fight against antimicrobial resistance

Curbing the slow-moving pandemic requires intensified actions, says FAO chief

26 January 2021, Rome - Prominent global leaders in science, industry and government joined today a United Nations effort to fight antimicrobial resistance, described as a slow-moving pandemic by the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu.

The One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), co-chaired by Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, held its first meeting, bringing together as members about 20 government ministers, prominent scientists, and leaders of foundations and corporations from around the world. The full list of members of the One Health Global Leaders Group is available here.  

Launched in November 2020 by FAO, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO), who will now also be joined by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Group aims to catalyze global attention and efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance across all sectors and ensure the availability of important medicines for the future.

"We look forward to this Group demonstrating strong leadership and advancing the global response to AMR, by sustaining the political momentum, building public support and mobilizing resources at all levels," said FAO's Qu Dongyu at the opening of the meeting.

Qu stressed that COVID-19 had highlighted the inter-connectedness of the agri-food and health systems at every level, and this was very relevant to managing AMR, which he described both as a "slow-moving pandemic" and a "serious threat".

Antimicrobial drugs are key in the treatment of diseases, and their use is essential to protect both human and animal health. However, antimicrobials' misuse and management is a major concern as a risk for emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistant micro-organism.

Whilst acknowledging that bringing attention to AMR in the midst of COVID-19 might seem challenging, this is an opportunity, said the FAO chief, as the world is more sensitized to the fragility of our health systems and the need to collectively tackle any threats to them.

"There is no time to waste. Let's join our forces and work together - all for one health, and one health for all!" he urged.

Qu also underlined that controlling AMR was important to FAO who is supporting its members through the "four betters" - better production, better nutrition, better environment, and better life.

WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that the world could not afford another global crisis, and urged political leaders, private sector and civil society to work together to address the drivers of AMR, and apply a coordinated approach to increase investments across the One Health spectrum in the implementation of national action plans, research and development.

OIE's Director General Monique Eloit said that the Group's expertise could help advocate the prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials, and the professional oversight of their use in all sectors. She pointed to the fight against AMR being a perfect example of a concrete application of the One Health multisectoral approach at global and national levels.

The Group's co-chairs Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh opened the meeting.

Mia Amor Mottley who also moderated the meeting said AMR was a clear and present danger to people, animals, plants and the environment, and there was a need for a movement to see a transformational change in the fight against the AMR crisis. For her part, Sheikh Hasina warned that AMR could endanger all the significant advancements of modern medicine.

UNEP's Executive Director Inger Andersen said her agency was pleased to join this partnership, noting that the natural environment was something that could not be ignored when dealing with AMR as the environment was key to solving it.

What's in store for the Group?

Some of the objectives and actions envisaged for the Group - to be refined on the second day of the meeting and in further exchanges - include:

-To maintain urgency, public support, political momentum and visibility of the AMR challenge on the global agenda;

-To advocate for action and scaled-up investment, including support for the expanding work of the Tripartite organizations (FAO/OIE/WHO), UN Environment and other international and regional entities;

-To monitor and report on progress, gaps and accountability in the global response to AMR;

-To advocate for multi-stakeholder engagement with the participation of Member States, UN agencies, international and intergovernmental organizations and regional entities, civil society, the private sector, researchers and others to develop and work towards a shared global vision, goals and coordinated action on AMR;

-To monitor and advocate for the inclusion of AMR and One Health "lens" in investments and programmes of major financing instruments for agriculture, health, development, food and feed production.

The health of animals, people, plants and the environment is interconnected. One Health is an integrated approach that recognizes this fundamental relationship and ensures that specialists in multiple sectors work together to tackle health threats to animals, humans, plants and the environment.

FAO's work on AMR

There has been a lot of attention on human exposure to AMR pathogens in hospitals and other healthcare facilities and the ramifications related to public health. However, because of the presence of some antimicrobial resistant microorganisms in some agricultural practices, they may also be in the food we eat. Antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms can develop in our food chain and move between animals, humans, and the environment. This makes AMR a problem that crosses sectoral boundaries.

FAO, itself a multidisciplinary organization, brings into play its expertise in aquatic and terrestrial livestock health and production, crop production, natural resource management and food safety. An important area for FAO's work is to identify and address the critical information gaps on the subject. Moreover, FAO is working closely with key partners such as OIE, WHO and others in a global response to the threat of AMR.

The Tripartite organizations (FAO/OIE/WHO) launched the One Health Global Leader Group as part of their shared call for united action to preserve and protect antimicrobial medicines. The Group was created in response to a recommendation from the Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance and supported by Secretary-General of the United Nations.

More information on the work of the Tripartite is available here

Photo: ©FAO
Composite photo from the first meeting of the One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).