The next pandemic is already here – why our world leaders should take notice of AMR

The main thing we know about the G7 Summit discussions is that the world response to COVID-19 will feature heavily.

We need a joined up approach to recovery, along with preparedness and resilience for the next pandemic. After all, despite history telling us that they occur once every 100 years, the next one is already here.

Alongside climate change, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is the most urgent global healthcare challenge for the human species. Microorganisms such as fungi, parasites, bacteria and viruses that can cause infections have evolved to become resistant to the drugs that we use to treat them. Overuse of antimicrobials in healthcare and the environment has significantly accelerated AMR.

The scary thing is, it’s insidious and silent. The latest figures suggest AMR will cause over 10 million deaths per year by 2050. This is more than deaths from cancer and diabetes combined, and triple the current COVID-19 death toll of 3.4 million deaths worldwide since 2019.

So what can we do about it? The main strategies of tackling AMR have focussed on discovery and development of new antibiotics. While there is merit to this approach, the antibiotic discovery economic pipeline is broken. A recent report by the World Healthcare Organisation [1] found that none of the 43 antibiotics in development target the most antibiotic resistant bacteria. Incentives such as the ‘subscription’ model to pay for antimicrobial development currently trialled the UK have been put in place to attempt to counter this. But microorganisms will constantly evolve to develop resistance to any new antimicrobial drug that is used – so we will need a constant supply of new drugs to stay ahead. The current economic model does not suggest this is a feasible or long-term strategy.

Alternatively, vaccines present a positive targeted solution to prevent AMR infections. However, is it really feasible to attempt to vaccinate populations against every AMR microorganism? The simple answer is no.

Diagnostics also present a good alternative solution to tackling AMR by enabling clinicians to rationalise antimicrobial use. Lord Jim O’Neill, one of the authors of the AMR Review of 2016 [2], stated that development of new diagnostic technologies was key to preventing overuse of antimicrobials in practice. However, there has been limited funding to accelerate diagnostics development for AMR infections.

Perhaps the most overlooked approach has been infection prevention and control. While biocide and sanitiser use has generally led to good hygiene practices against COVID-19, many scientists argue that overuse of biocides can induce biocide resistance, due to greater selective pressure for microorganisms to survive.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in lower to middle income countries (LMICs) should also be considered. The majority of AMR pathogens have originated in LMICs due to antimicrobial overuse - and tackling reservoirs where AMR microorganisms can proliferate is important. However, UK Official Development Aid cuts have severely impacted the AMR research community globally, and many collaborative UK research projects in LMICs have had to be abandoned.

Finally, education presents as the most obvious way of preventing over use of antimicrobials. By informing the public, healthcare professionals and world leaders, we can highlight that antimicrobials are a finite, precious resource that need to be protected and used sparingly.

Climate change is also on the list of priorities to discuss at G7, and this is closely linked to AMR. As our planet temperature rises, infections become more common as they can survive better in warmer climates. As our global population increases, more people will defecate. What is not considered is where that faeces will go and whether it will be treated. In LMICs where there is limited infrastructure and sanitation, faeces will directly enter the environment. Faeces contains 10¹² bacteria per gram and this will end up in rivers, and ultimately in the ocean. Climate change is causing ocean currents to move and thus bacteria in these environments will share their AMR genes, leading to transmission of AMR bacteria across the globe. The key thing for our world leaders to realise is that these global health challenges impact each other significantly.

AMR is already affecting all people of all nations. We need to do something now to stop it – but there is no single answer. What is required is a multifaceted ‘one health’ approach that combines all solutions instead of relying on a silver bullet. It is time for our world leaders to step up. They are the only ones who have the power and ability to impact and enable policy change to truly tackle AMR and infectious diseases. Their decisions can influence all sections of society and can futureproof for generations to come.

To enquire about future collaborations, please contact Dr Tina Joshi

COP26: Examining the evidence for global action 

The UN Climate Change Convention in 2021 – also known as COP26 – represented the largest coming together of world leaders to address climate change, and find real solutions. The race is truly on to slow climate change and protect our planet, improve global health and re-build post-pandemic economies through a green recovery.

For our part, it is more important than ever that researchers take a whole-systems approach in the search for solutions. We need to address local environmental priorities alongside national and international goals, if net-zero carbon and sustainable blue-green growth is to be achieved. Our researchers share how systems thinking through transdisciplinary research is key to providing evidence for global action ahead of COP26.

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