University of Zimbabwe Students Uniting To Fight Antimicrobial Resistance

By Bakani M. Ncube

The University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences student association bodies came together, united by one vision and goal, to join in a global campaign to combat antimicrobial resistance from November 14th to 20th. The World Antibiotic Awareness Week was marked by the public, policy-makers, human and veterinary health professionals and student engagement through social media and local awareness-raising events around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) as the resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial medicine to which it was previously sensitive. Resistant organisms (they include bacteria, viruses and some parasites) are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial medicines, such as antibiotics, antivirals, and antimalarials. Standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others. AMR is a consequence of the use, particularly the misuse, of antimicrobial medicines. It develops when a microorganism mutates or acquires a resistance gene.

There is a grave need for this global campaign as antibiotic resistance has become one of the biggest threats to global health and it endangers other major priorities such as development. It is escalating to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and undermining many advances that have been made in the field of health and medicine in the past decades. As a result of this, the WHO in May 2015, came up with a global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance that was endorsed at the World Health Assembly. It was supported by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The first objective of this plan was to ‘improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance through effective communication, education and training’.

The objectives of the campaign are to make antibiotic resistance a globally recognised health issue as AMR lead to failure in the standard treatment, resulting in prolonged illness and greater risk of death. This further increases the cost of health care as infections that have become resistant to first-line medicines will need the intervention of more expensive therapies. The longer the duration of illness and treatment, often in hospitals, increases health-care costs and poses a financial burden to families and societies. Antibiotics are a precious resource that cannot be taken for granted. They have allowed many serious infections to become very treatable and have saved millions of lives and there needs to be a worldwide change in behaviour if their effectiveness is to be preserved. With this in mind, the second objective is to raise awareness of the need to protect antibiotics through appropriate use. To illustrate the severity of the situation, about 440, 000 new cases of Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) emerge annually, causing at least 150, 000 deaths and Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB) has been reported in 64 countries to date. Another aim of the World Antibiotic Awareness Week is to increase recognition of the role that individuals, human and animal health professionals, agricultural professionals and governments must all play in tackling antibiotic resistance. To sum up, the main goal is to encourage the change in behaviour and to convey the message that simple actions can make a huge difference.

Although antibiotic resistance can occur naturally, the process is being accelerated by a number of factors which has led to record high levels of antibiotic resistance. The current worldwide antibiotic resistance crisis has been due to over-prescribing and dispensing of antibiotics, the misuse of antibiotics by patients as well as the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in livestock, fish farming and on plants. The pharmaceutical industry is not developing new antibiotics, vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutic options at a quick enough rate and this has also led to the current AMR crisis as well as poor infection control in hospitals, clinics and farms. In certain areas of the country, the lack of toilets and proper sewage disposal has propagated antibiotic resistance.

We are calling on you, all of you, to aid in the reduction of antimicrobial resistance by only using antibiotics when they have been prescribed by a certified health professional, to always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics, to never share or use leftover antibiotics, prevent infections by regularly washing your hands, handling food in a safe and clean manner, limiting contact with sick people, practicing safer sex and keeping your vaccinations up to date. In Zimbabwe, one of the challenges we face are patients demanding antibiotics even when the health worker says we do not need them and this is especially seen when patients seek antibiotics to treat a cold or flu.

Without urgent action, the world is headed for a ‘post-antibiotic era’ in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill and the benefits of advanced medical treatments such as chemotherapy and major surgery will be lost. Without effective antibiotics, an ever increasing list of infections such as pneumonia, blood poisoning, gonorrhoea and tuberculosis are becoming harder to treat. The emergence of AMR is a complex problem driven by many interconnected factors and a global and national multi-sector response is urgently needed to combat the growing threat of AMR. It is not too late to reduce the impact of antimicrobial resistance. Remember, no action today will result in no cure tomorrow.

Mr. Bakani is the Student Exchange Officer of Zimbabwe Pharmaceutical Students Association, a member of IPSF African Regional Office.