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World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2020: preserving a precious resource

Experts predict that in 30 years’ time, antimicrobial resistance-related infections will kill 10 million people a year worldwide, more than those who currently die from cancer, unless drastic action is taken…

Antimicrobials and superbugs

Antimicrobials is a collective term for all the medicines used to treat viral, fungal, parasitic and bacterial infections. They all contribute to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), but the main threat is currently antibiotic resistance to bacterial infections.

Microbes fight for survival by mutating or acquiring defence genes from other microbes. As antimicrobial drugs get stronger and their use is more widespread, less resistant strains are killed off by selection, leaving more resistant ones to proliferate. As the process repeats, this can eventually lead to the emergence of so-called untreatable “superbugs”.

Availability and misuse

Due to their widespread availability, low cost and relative safety, antibiotics are among the most misused and overused of all medicines in humans and animals. Examples of misuse include over-prescription, inappropriate treatment duration, inadequate dosage, not complying with the prescribed regimen and self-medication without proper consultation.

But the largest consumer of antibiotics is actually agriculture, since they’re used to treat and prevent bacterial infections and promote the growth of food animals for consumption worldwide. Using such immense volumes in food production and their unintended wide release into the environment through agricultural sewage impacts antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens, with considerable public health consequences. Antimicrobial additives are also used in plant agriculture and industrial applications.

Resistance can also be spread in developing nations as a result of inadequate access to clean water, poor sanitation and rudimentary waste management. This leads to frequent contact with faecal matter, which can host millions of resistant and potentially untreatable microbes. Many zoonotic microbes that are common in animals, such as the bacteria Salmonella can also infect humans, and drug-resistant strains can pass to us through the food chain.

A post-antimicrobial age?

Without action on AMR, a whole host of routine treatments that we currently take for granted, from setting broken bones and basic operations to chemotherapy, would become increasingly dangerous and potentially life-threatening without effective antibiotics.

The economic consequences are also huge; failure to address the problem could cost $100 trillion in lost productivity to the global economy.


To avoid the worst predictions from becoming reality, urgent action must be taken on AMR.

The overarching attitude to adopt is to treat antimicrobials, particularly antibiotics, as a precious resource that should not be used inappropriately. To preserve their effectiveness for the future, we should strive for a balance between using antimicrobials when really needed and reducing their use when not.

On a global scale, actions to combat resistance include:

  • Implementing a strong global public awareness campaign, focused on improving proper use and compliance with prescription regimens
  • Investing in the development of vaccines and alternatives (e.g. phage therapy)
  • Improving hygiene to prevent the spread of infection
  • Improving surveillance of antimicrobial consumption and resistant infections
  • Promoting new, rapid diagnostics to decrease unnecessary antibiotic use in humans
  • Reducing unnecessary use in agriculture and livestock, and their release into the environment

Preventing infections from occurring in the first place is the best defence against AMR. The fewer people get infected, the fewer people need to use antimicrobial medicines, thus reducing the spread of AMR. The simplest way we can help is by frequent and proper hand washing with just regular soap!

Awareness and education

Raising awareness through educating ourselves and our friends and family is one of the best ways to tackle AMR.
Every November, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosts World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW), as part of a global action plan to increase awareness and understanding of AMR, and encourage best practice among health workers, the public and policy makers.

For more information on how the WHO is taking action against AMR and various campaign leaflets, visit the WHO website. Finally, Public Health England’s Antibiotic Guardian Campaign contains a host of resources, news and events aimed at fighting antibiotic resistance.

Bioscript provides a unified network of services to our global pharmaceutical clients, bringing a team of cross-functional experts together to share ideas, outputs and insights that will help bring new antibiotics and alternatives to antimicrobials to market. If you would like to discuss our experience in antimicrobials, please get in touch.

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