By Sharon Atieno

Though antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – a condition that occurs when infections resist drugs that are designed to treat them- is a global threat, public understanding of this condition and its impacts remains limited.

As such, experts are calling for the need to generate data from citizens directly through public engagement to find out their knowledge concerning the condition, perceptions and values in order to increase ownership of the condition and reduce its dire impacts.

AMR accounts for at least 700,000 deaths each year and is projected to cause 10 million deaths by 2050 according to the World Health Organization. In addition, the United Nations notes that by 2030, AMR could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, Prof. Samuel Kariuki, Acting Director General Of Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) noted that it is important to raise awareness on AMR among citizens as they are the key stakeholders in the fight against the condition.

Citizen-generated data, he said is an “important entry point to be able to ask citizens to own AMR as their problem- as a community problem” because it is the people who take and prescribe microbials (drugs).

“Citizen voices help in answering the why question. Enabling them to speak helps to understand their values, norms and perceptions. Thus enabling government to come up with solutions informed on contexts,” he said.

Presenting findings from a study conducted through public engagement via radio, interviews, focus group discussions and sms on AMR, Karen Bett, Policy Manager, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data  said that there are several key drivers of AMR.

One of them, she said, is risky health-seeking practices on antibiotics among citizens which  includes under-or-over dosing of drugs and buying drugs over the counter without prescription,

Another driver is access, affordability and availability of health care. Bett noted that some of the antibiotics are easily accessible, affordable and readily available in chemists thus encouraging uptake among citizens.

Additionally, she mentioned that there is lack of detailed guidance on use of antibiotics and consequences, perceptions of quality of medicines,coupled with weak enforcement and awareness of regulations on medications which make it easy for counterfeit medicines to thrive in the sector.

Lastly, Bett said, inadequate and under-resourced health services make it difficult for professionals to get ample time with citizens to explain to them the dangers and impacts of not using microbials properly.

Noting that AMR is a shared responsibility, she urged citizens to change their practices in accessing, using and misusing antimicrobials. Also, Bett called on the government to invest in the condition as a public health priority.

Besides, she pointed out the need to drive quality patient engagement on AMR to tackle misinformation and improve levels of trust with citizens, as well as incorporating citizen’s voices in research studies that target challenges on AMR.

Dr. Sam Aketch, Principal Investigator, Health Services Unit, Kemri/Wellcome Trust stressed the need to avoid risky health practices and seek professional help before using antibiotics.  Frequent use of antibiotics, he said, can interfere with body balance, destroying even the good bacteria which helps to fight infections.

“If misused, antibiotics can lead to infections such as hormone fungal infections which are difficult to treat,” Dr. Akech said, adding that new antibiotics are expensive to both patients and the health care system.