Nations and leaders commit to tackle antimicrobial resistance

Posted on October 4, 2016   by Isabel Spence

Over the last few months there has been a plethora of commitment at the highest level across the world to working together to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Guangliang Huo, Thinkstock
© Guangliang Huo/Thinkstock

Firstly, at the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in Japan on 26 and 27 May 2016, world leaders recognised the serious impact that AMR could have on their economies and committed to taking action. The group emphasised the importance of promoting R&D and innovation in this area and agreed to take concrete actions, laid out in the G7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health.

This view was reiterated at the G20 summit in China on 5 September, where leaders affirmed the need to fight AMR in an inclusive manner by developing evidence-based ways to prevent and mitigate its spread, and by unlocking R&D into new and existing antimicrobials.

Finally, at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 21 September, all 193 member nations agreed to sign a landmark declaration to fight the growing threat of AMR. This is only the fourth time in history that a UN health declaration has been signed and this, alongside the commitment shown from the G7 and G20 leaders, are important steps on the road to a global solution.

Last week, I had the privilege of representing the Microbiology Society in New York at a Ministerial Side-Event on AMR, held ahead of the UN General Assembly 2016. The Side-Event, organised by Lord Jim O’Neill’s Review on AMR team, brought together government representatives from the UK, Australia, the Argentine Republic, Kenya, South Africa and Sweden. It was inspirational to see government representatives from across the world coming together to summon strong national, regional and international political commitment in addressing AMR, and working to improve awareness of the issue.

UK Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, who has championed the issue of AMR, chaired the meeting, which focused on the steps that the public and private sectors can take to tackle drug resistant infections. There was also discussion of how governments and the pharmaceutical industry can act together to mitigate the spread of drug resistance, and to stimulate the development of the affordable, accessible antimicrobial drugs that the world needs.

At this meeting, Dr Monsef Slaoui, Chairman of Vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), announced that 13 pharmaceutical organisations have joined together to produce an Industry Roadmap for Progress on Combating Antimicrobial Resistance. The roadmap sets out how signatories are committed to: reducing environmental impact from production of antibiotics; helping to ensure antibiotics are only being used in patients who need them; improving access to future antibiotics, diagnostics and vaccines; and supporting new ways of working such as open collaborations between industry and public researchers.

It was satisfying to hear that the work that the Society is doing on AMR is complementary to many of the commitments set out in the UN declaration. For example, the Society’s Antibiotics Unearthed citizen science project has engaged more than 1,000 families, students and educators in the search for new antibiotics, raising awareness of the issue among these groups.

In addition to engagement, the declaration also recognised the need for a multi-sectoral approach to tackling AMR. The Society is working in a partnership of six other learned societies across a range of scientific disciplines, sharing information and facilitating networking to support the AMR research community. Last year, the group ran a series of workshops on AMR in the environment and were able to take the findings to the Research Councils to inform their future work.

While all of these high-level commitments are commendable, we now need to see global action. Leaders at the UN meeting called on global organisations, including the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Bank, to coordinate their planning and actions and to report back to the UN General Assembly in September 2018. AMR is not going away; it is vital that we see significant progress in combatting this global issue.

Isabel is the Society's Head of Public Affairs