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Asian governments to fight super bugs together

Sonia Awale

Governments in the Asia Pacific have vowed to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistance together to slow the spread of super bugs, 12 health ministers from the region agreed in Tokyo this week.

People in the Asia Pacific are at a higher risk of antibiotic resistance and less-developed countries in the region need to step up efforts against bugs that develop a resistance to antibiotics due to drug misuse and over-prescription.

Health ministers agreed to monitor the sale and use of antibiotic medicines, regulate the production, conduct more research on the development of new antibiotics and vaccines, and guide effective policies and action, according to a press release from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which organised the meeting with the government of Japan.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a looming health and economic crisis that requires both global and local solutions. Since drug resistant genes can travel, countries with higher levels of economic and social organisation have a stake in the success of measures taken by less developed countries,” said Singh, WHO’s Regional Director for South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal at the meeting. “In the fight against antimicrobial resistance, we are only as strong as the weakest link.”

Khetrapal added that the antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest threats to human health today, along with global security and economic stability. Every year at least 700,000 people die globally after developing resistance to otherwise treatable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis and bacterial infections. The journal ‘Review on Antimicrobial Resistance’ predicts that it will claim 300 million premature lives and cost $1 trillion by 2050 if nothing is done to reduce antibiotic resistance.

Asia Pacific region is more vulnerable to resistant infections, evident by the rise in number of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and drug-resistant malaria in recent years leading to fatalities. The region is experiencing rapid urbanisation and economic development, and undergoing cultural and socio-demographic changes at the same time. Countries in the region are battling with the emergence of non-communicable diseases while still being plagued by the infectious ailments.

Most of the population isn’t well educated about the implications of antibiotic and treat it as any other drug. Furthermore, poor people often can’t afford the full dose as prescribed by the doctors. Commercialisation of health care and pharmaceutical industries have also lead to the over prescription of antibiotic drugs by the physicians, health experts say.

“We have a limited window of opportunity to take action and avoid a post-antibiotic era,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, Regional Director for the Western Pacific of WHO. “We must strengthen health systems’ response and cooperation with the agriculture sector to contain this threat, and improve understanding of the problem among the public.”

In Tokyo, the ministers admitted that the antimicrobial resistance is a by-product of system failure, in regulation of medicines and trade controls, and the solutions lies in strengthening the these loopholes.

They agreed to take action to create awareness about the responsible use of antibiotics in the population, implementing multi-sectoral approach, with effective governance mechanisms and collective effort from all the stakeholders.

The meeting also concluded that ensuing equitable access to quality health services, including the prevention and control of infections and rational prescribing of antibiotics through universal health coverage is another effective way to reduce the risk.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health problem in China as well. As many as 70, 52 and 40 per cent of Chinese people have resistance to Escherichia coliKlebsiella pneumonia and Staphylococcus aureus respectively, bacteria that cause urinary tract infection, pneumonia, meningitis and skin disease, according to a 2014 WHO surveillance report.

The case of antibiotic resistance is further aggravated in Hong Kong because of the wastewater it generates from hospitals and sewage treatment plants, which spreads the resistance through the water supply and the food chain as confirmed by a recent study. Experts say the Hong Kong government must have provision to control hospital wastewater discharge to battle the growing threat.

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