By Sharon Atieno

Proper handling of food after production, proper use of antibiotics by patients and farmers as well as proper disposal of waste water especially by drug manufacturing companies are crucial in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

It is estimated that by 2050, 10 million people will die from AMR with almost half (4.5 million) coming from Sub-Saharan Africa. The economic costs of AMR is estimated at 2 to 3.5 percent decrease (equivalent to USD 100 trillion) in global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

AMR is a major concern because the inability of disease causing bacteria, virus, fungi or parasites to respond to medicine results in prolonged illness, disability and even death. When antimicrobials (medicines that prevent and treat infections) become ineffective it spells doom for the patients who require medical procedures such as surgeries, organ transplantation or cancer chemotherapy amongst others. There is also a risk of the infectious disease being widespread due to lack of means to fight and contain it.

AMR is largely faulted on improper use of antibiotics. Patients opt to walk in to chemists and pharmacies to purchase drugs over the counter without proper diagnosis and prescription from doctors at health centres. Furthermore, most of those on prescription, do not finish their doses thus making the superbug that is causing the disease resistant to the drug.

In 2016, 490 000 people developed multi-drug resistant TB globally, according to World Health Organization. Drug resistance is also making the fight against HIV and malaria difficult.

“Some farmers are pumping growth promoters, antibiotics in to animals in order to cope with the demand,”stated Dr. Evelyne Wesangula, antimicrobial officer in the Ministry of Health, when speaking in a conference for African Science Journalists convened by Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA). It is against this background that WHO warned farmers against using antibiotics on healthy animals as it increases the rates of resistance not only in animals but also in human beings.

 “Improving simple things like hygiene can reduce the need for antibiotics by up to 60 percent,” urged Wesangula. “Farmers before purchasing antibiotics for their poultry or livestock, should ensure that proper hygiene is observed for example, where the poultry is being kept and should try to consult veterinary officers in situations where they think the poultry or livestock is ill.”

 “This resistance is affecting global health progress. It is not just about Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number three on good health and well-being, it affects poverty, food security and economic growth. The threat of AMR is real,” emphasized Wesangula.

In a bid to address the issue, WHO launched the Global Antimicrobial Surveillance System (GLASS) to supportglobal surveillance and research on AMR and help in informing decision-making and drive national, regional, and global actions.

The global plan of action includes five strategies: improving awareness, strengthening surveillance, reducing infection, optimizing use of these drugs and ensuring sustainable investment. Only 25 countries in Africa have developed an action plan towards AMR while 22 others are still in the process of developing theirs.

Wesangula made several recommendations including policy change that puts regulations on antibiotic use and accessibility. The regulation should limit over the counter buying of antibiotics and ensure that they are bought only on prescription from a qualified physician and sold by qualified people at specific places. She also recommended proper handling of food during preparation to wash off any residues of antibiotics in vegetables or meat products. Another suggestion called for effluents and waste from pharmaceutical companies to be treated before disposal and monitoring to be done to ensure adherence.