By Mary Hearty

As the annual World Antimicrobial Awareness Week was commemorated, it was revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk to the drive against antimicrobial resistance.

Recent studies indicate that 72 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients received antimicrobials, but only 8 percent had infections that can be treated with these medicines, Dr Laetitia Gahimbare, Antimicrobial resistance Technical Officer, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Africa stated during the launch.

Similarly, disruption of vaccination services can increase risk of infection, potentially leading to an overuse of antimicrobials.

Also, antimicrobials are widely used in animal production not only to improve animal health and animal welfare, but also to enhance animal growth rates and raise animal productivity. This can lead to the emergence of resistance and the transmission of resistant genes and resistance bacteria between species.

It was noted that among the efforts to implement sustainable measures to mitigate further emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance is engaging health workers to follow the standard practice and prescription guidelines.

“Given their critical role, they need to be educated about this issue so that they can also properly educate their patients about dangers of abusing or misusing antimicrobials. This is why stewardship and awareness is vital at all levels to ensure rational prescription and rational use,” Dr Walter Fuller, WHO African Regional Office Technical Officer (AMR) said.

He also stressed on the importance of effective regulations and the enforcement of those regulations to serve as a deterrent against abuse and misuse, as it could curtail the substandard and falsified market that tends to flourish when regulations and regulatory interventions are weak or absent.

“Safe farming practices can often alleviate the needs for use of antimicrobials. Secondly, antimicrobials should be used to treat specific diseases and not as a blanket treatment for an unconfirmed sickness,” highlighted Dr Scott Newman, Senior animal health and livestock production officer at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Africa.

He added that veterinarians should provide guidance on diagnosis and proper treatment for sick animals as well as ensuring use of approved medicines and not counterfeit drugs.

This is to increase awareness of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and encourage best practices among general public, health workers and policy makers. Consequently, this could stop further spread of drug resistant infections.

This year’s awareness week theme is “United to Prevent Drug Resistance” focused on changing from “antibiotics” to more and inclusive term “antimicrobials”.

Antimicrobials include different types of microbes: antibiotics used against bacteria, antivirals used against virus, antifungals used against fungi and antiparasitics used against microscopic parasites.