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Antibiotic resistance poses an increasing risk to people, animals and the environment

ByMicheal Johnson

May 1, 2021

The emergence of COVID-19 has demonstrated the ease with which infections can spread, threaten global health security and destabilize economies, people’s lives and livelihoods. Antimicrobial resistance is a growing pandemic that hinders the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed participants at the High-Level Dialogue on Antimicrobial Resistance held this Thursday at the UN General Assembly.

The data of the World Health Organization (WHO) show that currently at least 700,000 people die every year due to drug-resistant diseases.

“If urgent measures are not taken, these diseases could cause ten million deaths annually by 2050In addition to causing economic damage as catastrophic as the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and, by 2030, antimicrobial resistance could push 24 million more people into extreme poverty, ”said the President of the General Assembly.

No transplants or chemotherapy

Volkan Bozkir stressed that if the current trend continues, sophisticated interventions requiring antimicrobials such as organ transplants, joint replacements and cancer chemotherapy, as well as care for premature babies, will become too dangerous and will not be possible.

Speakers at the semi-virtual event included World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus; the general director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Qu Dongyu; the general director of the Organization for Animal Health, Monique Eloit; and the executive deputy director of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Joyce Msuya, who expressed alarm over lack of awareness about what they called a “silent pandemic”, despite the devastating consequences it can have.

They pointed out that lack of regulation, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animals, and over-the-counter and online sales have led to a boom in counterfeit or poor-quality antimicrobials.

They also considered it imperative that actors involved in food production and processing, animal husbandry and agriculture are present in the debates on antimicrobial resistance since the food sector is the largest consumer of antimicrobials.



WHO / S. Bouquet

The World Health Organization highlights the need to administer antibiotics properly to tackle the crisis created by antimicrobial resistance.

Growing pandemic

“As the current and growing pandemic that it is, antimicrobial resistance must be a central part of preparing for a future health emergency,” said Volkan Bozkir.

Dr. Tedros, for his part, called for a joint response to antimicrobial resistance “as urgent as that required by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“It is vital that together we grant the same sense of urgency, innovation and solidarity that we have seen in the face of COVID-19 in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. (…) The COVID-19 pandemic has crudely illustrated the need to work with all sectors with a health approach that integrates efforts to protect the health of human beings, animals and the planet, ”Tedros stressed.

To close his speech, the head of the WHO called on all countries to sign the Call to Action against Antimicrobial Resistance 2021, which has already received great international support.

Complex threat

In his turn at the microphone, the FAO director pointed out that antimicrobial resistance is resulting in a threat series increasingly complex and visible to global health, food safety and food security, “and this can also cause substantial socio-economic damage,” he added.

Qu Dongyu maintained, however, that this reality can change if the world acts consistently, quickly and decisively.

“We need antimicrobials to keep working. Wait for new drugs to be created It is not an option due to the extraordinary cost and complexity of their research and development ”, he emphasized.

Recalling that without effective essential drugs the spread of infectious diseases can escalate and get out of control and that a 45% increase in global demand for animal protein is expected by 2050, he stressed the importance of tackling the double challenge to meet that demand while reducing the risks of antimicrobial resistance.



Antibiotic use is increasing antimicrobial resistance in humans and could pose a deadly threat to humanity. Photo: FAO

Collective action

In this sense, he insisted that the fight against antimicrobial resistance requires collective efforts from a wide range of actors, including the ministries of health, food and agriculture of all countries, as well as those responsible for the administration of shared natural resources and the academic and private sectors.

Qu Dongyu said that FAO, WHO and the Organization for Animal Health are working together with UNEP to drive change through collective action.

He limited that this plan requires “funds, in-kind contributions and resources to expand operations globally and nationally ”.

“Just working together, our world will be better for generations to come. We can rebuild better and stronger for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life without leaving anyone behind ”, concluded the head of FAO.