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27 May, 2024
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A silent pandemic requiring global action now

EU commissioner and WHO chief warn globe as infections become resistant to antibiotics

By Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Stella Kyriakides

This week, the World Health Assembly gathers to address health emergencies, including the challenge of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). While the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated headlines, other serious health threats like AMR have continued to grow unnoticed.

Unless we take action, we risk seeing a silent pandemic rising – with far-reaching consequences.

It is a fact that more and more infections are becoming resistant to antibiotics. This means it is more difficult to treat infections, and it leads to more deaths.

Together across the globe, we need to urgently strengthen our resolve and technical capacity to address this crisis, and take decisive and collective action to prevent antimicrobial resistance from becoming the next pandemic.

If policymakers fail to address the challenge of antimicrobial resistance they risk seeing the rise of a silent pandemic

It is encouraging that 144 countries have now established multisectoral AMR national action plans. But implementation in countries requires increased technical assistance and financial resources.

As we have experienced over the past year, the impact one virus can have on our lives and our economies can be devastating. So far 3.4 million lives have been lost to COVID-19, but the death toll from AMR could be higher unless there is urgent action.

We, the global community, simply cannot allow bacteria to become resistant to available medicines. We need to slow the development of resistance so that there are still effective and safe medicines that we can use to treat infections.

Antibiotics underpin much of the progress that has been made in health care in recent decades, and if these medicines are no longer effective, routine surgery and cancer treatments will become riskier, and many of the gains in addressing common community infections will be lost.

The human, economic, and development consequences would be disastrous.

Therefore, we are calling for a spirit of global cooperation and a sense of genuine urgency to prevail in tackling the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance. The time to act is now.

The threat of AMR will also significantly impact many of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We support the growing collaboration between the so-called Tripartite Plus — FAO, OIE, WHO, and UNEP — that reflects an intensifying level of concern around the interconnected threats of animal, human and environmental health.

The European Union and WHO stand shoulder to shoulder with our international partners to face this challenge head-on. Action is required at regional and at national levels.

Under the EU One Health Action Plan against AMR, the EU has taken legislative action to ban the preventive use of antibiotics in animals, reserve some antimicrobials for human use only, and extend the EU ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animals.

COVID-19 has taught us all some harsh lessons: the critical need to strengthen health systems in all countries, the need to strengthen emergency preparedness, and the vital importance of global solidarity.

The greatest threats facing us – from climate change to the rise of antimicrobial resistance – are shared ones. They are also interconnected. We must face them together, with each country strengthening their national response but doing so in concert with one another.

We must see AMR for what it is: a common threat requiring a common response. The European Union and the WHO, together with the other partners of the Tripartite Plus, stand shoulder to shoulder with our international partners to face this challenge head-on.

Important steps have already been taken at the global level to raise awareness and increase political commitment, such as the establishment of the AMR Global Leaders Group, the Global Health Summit declaration, or the plan of the Tripartite Plus organisations to launch a partnership platform for AMR action.

Similarly, members of the G7 and G20 have repeatedly committed to work together in tackling AMR.

We are pleased that AMR will feature prominently at the next G7 summit with proposals that differentiate antibiotics from other medicines, including valuing and reimbursing them in specific ways.

We welcome this first step. The EU and the Tripartite Plus organisations will propose an AMR-solutions-focused discussion at the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021.

We should join forces now and work towards a comprehensive Global Action Plan on AMR looking at animal health, human health, plant health and environmental concerns, with a One Health approach at the centre.

We have the means at our disposal to combat AMR at a global level, but to achieve this our response must be organised, dedicated and translated into action in all countries. Now is the time to be ambitious and take concrete action.

Stella Kyriakides is the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety; Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the Director-General of the World Health Organisation. The text was first published by EURACTIV in a piece titled "Antimicrobial resistance – a silent pandemic requiring global action now"

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