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WHY TACKLING ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE IS CRITICAL
TO ACHIEVING UNIVERSAL HEALTH COVERAGE

By Erick Venant from Dodoma, Tanzania

Erick is committed to raising awareness about anti-microbial resistance and is the Founder and CEO of Roll Back Antimicrobials Resistance (RBA Initiative). He led a nationwide anti-microbial resistance campaign in Tanzania which educated over 49,000 students and teachers in 114 secondary schools.   

12 December 2020

Today is International Universal Health Coverage Day which raises awareness of the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverageUniversal health coverage (UHC) means that everyone has access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. It includes the full range of essential health services from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

Each year on 12 December, UHC advocates raise their voices to share the stories of the millions of people still waiting for health care. It is a chance to  champion what we have achieved so far and call on leaders to make bigger and smarter investments in health.

To mark International Universal Health Coverage Day this year, I would like to share insights on why tackling antimicrobial resistance is critical to achieving UHC. 

Erick meeting HRH The Duke of Cambridge at Kensington Palace in November 2019 for the Legacy Award residential.

What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites resist the effects of medications making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and related death. As a result of drug resistance, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective and infections become increasingly difficult or impossible to treat.

The misuse and overuse of antimicrobials are rapidly accelerating this process. Often, antimicrobials are overused and misused and often given without professional oversight. For example, when antibiotics (which do not work against viruses), are taken by people to treat viral infections like common colds and flu.

Health systems rely heavily on antibiotics and other groups of drugs, not only for the basic treatment of infections, but also for medical and surgical procedures. Effective antimicrobials are therefore critically important cornerstones for a health system. However, microbes are becoming resistant to these medicines which threatens their lifesaving value.

AMR would seriously jeopardise the achievement of universal health coverage as good quality health care for all cannot be reached without sustainable and effective treatment of infections.

Erick, 2nd in from the right with microphone, at Antimicrobial resistance awareness activity to healthcare students.

Why combating antimicrobial resistance matters?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that antimicrobial resistance is now one of the top 10 global public health threats. Drug resistant infections kill around 700,000 people worldwide each year and, according to a report by the UN, the number could increase to 10 million per year by 2050.

As well as affecting multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), AMR also has serious economic consequences: the World Bank predicts that 24.1 million people could fall into extreme poverty by 2050 because of this problem.

Antimicrobial resistance is already happening; it is a problem with no boundaries and is causing a real threat of untreatable infections amongst communities. The universal health coverage movement is asking countries to invest more in health systems. Investing in AMR control is essential to achieving UHC and it won’t be possible without paying close attention to one of our most pressing global health threats: drug-resistant infections.

But the good news is that we can all do something to turn the tide and help make the world free from the fear of untreatable infections. COVID-19 has already taught us many lessons and proven the significance of implementing simple measures to prevent the spread of infections. We must use the one health’ approach in tackling antimicrobial resistance. This incorporates the connection between people, animals and the environment. 

Erick receiving his Legacy Award from Earl Spencer in November 2019 in the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Some of the actions you can take to help combat antimicrobial resistance are: 

  • Taking antimicrobial medication only if it is necessary, and only after getting advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner. 
  • Always completing the full prescription even if you feel better – stopping treatment early promotes the growth of drug-resistant organisms. 
  • Taking the right dose of your medication at the right time as prescribed.
  • Not purchasing antibiotics without a prescription (self-medication is a significant contributor of antimicrobial resistance).
  • Regular, thorough hand washing and hygienic food preparation. 
  • Observe the expiry date of the medicine, which is generally found on the label. Antimicrobial resistance may occur with sub-potent medications as they may not be able to completely kill or stop the growth of microbes, but the exposure can cause them to start adapting to (and ultimately resisting) the drugs. 
  • Receiving vaccinations as per government recommendations. 
  • Myth-busting – spreading the awareness that antibiotics cannot treat colds and flu because they are caused by viruses. 
  • Not consuming leftover medication for other illnesses – remember that the antimicrobial you take for one condition may not work for another. 

If you work with animals, you can also help by: 

  • Not using antimicrobials for growth, or to prevent diseases in healthy animals. 
  • Ensuring you vaccinate animals in the first instance to reduce the need for antimicrobials in the future and using alternatives to antimicrobials when available. 
  • Preventing infections through improved hygiene and animal welfare. 

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