By Gift Briton

With drug-resistant diseases contributing to nearly five million deaths every year, global leaders and experts have called on all countries to urgently establish and implement policies and regulation to reduce antimicrobial pollution as this would help in combating the growing levels of drug resistance and protect the environment.

The Global Leaders Group(GLG) on Antimicrobial Resistance, formed by heads of state, government ministers, and leaders from private sector and civil society, stated that the current increase of antimicrobial drug usage in humans, animals and plants is leading to a concerning rise in drug-resistance and making infections harder to treat.

These drugs are used in humans and veterinary medicine across the globe to treat and prevent diseases in humans and animals, and sometimes in food production to promote growth in healthy animals. Additionally, the antimicrobial pesticides are also used in agriculture to treat and prevent diseases in plants.

Antimicrobials given to humans, animals and plants are leaking into our environment and water sources (including drinking water sources) through waste, run-off and sewage thereby spreading drug-resistant organisms and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

However, GLG note that without immediate action, the world is rapidly approaching a critical point where the antimicrobials needed to treat infections in humans, animals and plants will no longer be effective, adding that this will cause a devastating impacts on local and global health systems, economies, food security and food systems.

“The connections between antimicrobial resistance, environmental health and the climate crisis are becoming increasingly stark,”  Her Excellency Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and co-chair of the Global Leader Group on Antimicrobial Resistance said in a statement.

“We must act now to protect the environment, and people everywhere, from the damaging effects of antimicrobial pollution.’’

Disposal of untreated or inappropriately managed waste and runoff from various sources including food systems, manufacturing facilities and human health systems can contain biologically active antimicrobials, antimicrobial resistant organisms, un-metabolized antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance determinants.

These discharges can contaminate the environment and contribute to the spread of AMR.

According to the GLG, the most important approach of controlling AMR spread from food and human health systems is through responsible and sustainable use of antimicrobials in humans, terrestrial and aquatic animals and plants or crops.

Furthermore, adequate measures to treat and safely dispose off waste are required, including human, animal and manufacturing waste

In order to improve the management of discharges into the environment that may contribute to the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance, GLG calls on all countries to create and implement regulatory frameworks and policies that would better control and monitor the distribution and release of antimicrobials, antimicrobial resistant bacteria and antimicrobial resistance determinants.

Further, countries should reduce the need for antimicrobial use through implementation of effective infection prevention and control measures in all sectors, including water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), vaccination, biosecurity and animal husbandry and welfare measures.

Additionally, GLG recommends that they enhance and coordinate research for a comprehensive understanding of risks to human and animal health from the environmental presence of antimicrobials, resistance microbes and mobile genetic elements in discharges, as well as potential hot spots, environmental impacts and antimicrobial resistance pathways, and mitigation measures

While it is still not clear on the exact scale of global antimicrobial pollution, evidence indicates that it could have negative impacts on AMR.