Electron micrograph of conidiophores of Penicillium chrysogenum. Photo: Anne Bahnweg/Flickr CC
In 1928, scientist Alexander Fleming made a discovery that changed the history of medicine. He discovered that a fungus called Penicillium notatum could kill bacteria. This observation led to the development of a medicine that could treat bacterial infections – penicillin. Penicillin is one of many antibacterial drugs that have enabled us to cure many diseases that were previously fatal. The discovery of antibacterial drugs is considered one of the major discoveries in medical science and has been essential to the improvement of public Health.
However, antimicrobial, and especially antibiotic, resistance is now challenging this progress. Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, means that microorganisms such as bacteria, virus and fungi change and become resistant to the drugs that are used to treat them – antimicrobial drugs. With increasing antimicrobial resistance, many bacterial and other diseases can once again become dangerous and deadly. The direct impact of an infection with resistant micro-organisms can be severe, leading to complications such as longer illness, increased mortality, prolonged stays in hospitals and difficulties in protecting patients during operations and other medical procedures. Our modern health care currently depends on effective antibacterial drugs in, for example, cancer treatments, transplants and surgery involving an increased risk of infection.
There are many factors behind the increase in antimicrobial resistance – one is the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in both human medicine and animal husbandry. Antibiotics are widely used in healthy animals to prevent disease and, in many countries, to promote growth through mass administration to herds. Poor infection prevention and control helps spread infections and so increase the need for antibiotics. Containing AMR and especially antibiotic resistance is a high priority for the Swedish Government. Sweden has the lowest use of antibiotics in animals in European Union. Antibiotic resistance is, however, a global problem which goes beyond the capacity of any nation or organisation to manage alone.
International organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as well as their Member States, need to work collectively to address the problem. Sweden took a leading role in the global efforts against AMR two years ago by initiating a resolution that commissioned the WHO to develop a global action plan on AMR, including antibiotic resistance. At this year’s World Health Assembly, 194 Member States adopted the action plan, which calls on Member States to develop national action plans within two years. The plan itself will not solve the problem, but is an important and unparalleled first step.
Another milestone in the fight against AMR was reached at this year’s World Health Assembly, when Swedish Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport Gabriel Wikström launched an Alliance of Health Ministers at a ministerial breakfast. The Alliance includes ministers of health from Brazil, China, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zambia. By signing a Call to Action, the ministers agreed to promote political awareness, engagement and leadership on AMR among heads of state, other ministers and global leaders, and call for a high-level meeting in the United Nations General Assembly in 2016. The Alliance of Champions plans to meet again in the margins of the Global Health Security Agenda high-level meeting to be held in Seoul in September this year.
Intern, Permanent Mission of Sweden in Geneva