Antimicrobial resistance: the ongoing global health crisis

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the world’s top ongoing health crises. Estimates show AMR is directly responsible for 1.27 million deaths in 2019, and was a contributing factor in at least 4.9 million more. AMR is becoming a rising burden on the global health system, and rapid evolutions in AMR types are leading to action plans becoming outdated before they can be implemented, soaking up more resources and research time. The effects of AMR put the development of modern medicine at risk by making infections harder to treat and many procedures much riskier. So what is AMR? And what is being done to solve this crisis?

What is AMR?

Antimicrobial resistance is a broad term used to describe the natural evolutionary process of a bacteria, virus, parasite, and/or fungus genetically adapting defences against the drugs and chemicals that humans use to remove them from our bodies and environment.  We then call these evolved pathogens ‘superbugs’. All living things will eventually develop survival mechanisms, but when those living things are capable of debilitating us, it’s extremely important that we address the problem. Researchers have found AMR in the pathogens behind conditions like HIV, malaria, E. coli, and even leprosy. Today, when a new antibiotic drug is released to the public, scientists expect to see signs of AMR adaptation within an average of just two years.

Where did AMR come from?

AMR is the result of two human actions: overuse and misuse of medications. Plants and animals are often treated with antimicrobial medications as a preventative measure to ensure they’re fit for human consumption, creating a perfect environment for AMR to develop. Similarly, many human diseases and conditions are incorrectly treated with antimicrobial medications for extended periods, further allowing the resistant pathogens a foothold within our bodies. This means that superbugs are often found in environments that are dense with antimicrobial treatments, such as hospitals and factory farms.

What is being done to address AMR?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) developed its Global Action Plan (GAP) in 2015, with 194 members joining to take coordinated action against AMR. In the years since, 178 of those members (including Australia) have developed and implemented their own action plans in alignment with the GAP. These action plans detail precise, research-backed methods for fighting AMR, including multi-sector AMR governance, monitoring and alert systems, intervention packages, and educational stewardship programs and resources. Additionally, WHO has identified major gaps in clinical R&D being done to address AMR, and has partnered with the Global Antibiotic Research & Development Partnership (GARDP), the AMR Action Fund, the Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X), and government bodies around the globe to incentivise deeper research and development into new and effective methods for navigating antimicrobial resistance.

Life Sciences Queensland associates Microbio and a number of teams at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute are also leading the global charge against AMR from our local corner. Microbio’s newest sepsis pathogen testing method allows the deployment of targeted sepsis treatments that avoid building AMR in other pathogens in the patient’s body. QIMR researchers are analysing therapy-resistant cancers, exploring treatments for antibiotic multi-resistant pathogens that cause lung disease, and defining the epidemiology of resistant chronic cirrhosis. Together with other research teams around the globe, these Queensland-based groups are proving that the fight against AMR is one of focus – and with continued effort, it can be overcome. We thank them for their vital contributions, and stand ready to offer support.

AMR is an unequivocal threat to the wellbeing of people everywhere, but it’s not a threat that’s going unchallenged. With WHO leading the charge and the world’s medical research and development organisations working to address the problem, we’re hoping that AMR will become an issue of the past. To learn more about AMR and what’s being done to address it, read WHO's detailed summary.

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