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Growing antimicrobial resistance a major health issue for NZ

Royal Society Te Apārangi

17 May 2017
Growing antimicrobial resistance a major health issue for New Zealand

New Zealand is in no way insulated from the global growth in antimicrobial resistance that is predicted to kill more than 10 million people worldwide every year by 2050 and to have major impacts on animal health, warns Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Today the Society released its latest report, a summary of the research on antimicrobial resistance.

Many microbes that commonly cause infectious diseases in humans and animals are becoming resistant to the medicines we use to treat these diseases. These microbes include viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites and cause illnesses such as skin and urinary tract infections, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Dr Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist from the University of Auckland, a Royal Society Te Apārangi Councillor and an expert adviser on the report, says antimicrobial resistance is not a new thing.

“Microbes have become resistant to the medicines we have used to treat them ever since we started using medicines, but the problem is we are running out of medicines that work. The cupboard is now bare.”

“In the United States last year was the first case of an infection in a patient with a completely resistant organism. The doctors tried 26 different antibiotics, none of which worked. The doctors had nothing left to try and the patient died.”

For those who think New Zealand’s relative isolation will protect us somewhat, Dr Wiles’ message is stark.

“In New Zealand we are as vulnerable as the rest of the world. We have higher rates of many infectious diseases than countries like the USA, the UK and Australia and a growing number of those organisms are becoming resistant to our medicines.”

“Here in New Zealand we travel a lot and every time we travel overseas whether it’s for holiday or for trade and business, we have the opportunity to bring resistant organisms back into New Zealand.”

“We are also breeding them here ourselves, especially by the way we use and abuse antibiotics.”

All New Zealanders can help reduce the growth in antimicrobial resistance by practising high standards of hygiene, such as correct hand washing, taking antibiotics only as prescribed and not insisting on antibiotics from doctors and vets.

As antimicrobial resistance is a global issue, New Zealand has made a commitment to the World Health Organisation to have a national antimicrobial resistance action plan. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health and Ministry for Primary Industries are working with research institutes and other human and animal health organisations to prepare such a plan to combat resistance and to set out how we can use antimicrobial medicines more wisely in New Zealand.

The Royal Society Te Apārangi report warns, however, that this action plan will likely only delay and reduce the severity of the impact of antimicrobial resistance here in New Zealand.

Dr Wiles says the same is likely to apply to the research underway in New Zealand and overseas to discover and develop new antimicrobial medicines.

“It may buy us time but we are unlikely to find the silver bullet. Antimicrobial resistance is a serious issue for us, up there with climate change as one of the most pressing issues of our time, and we all need to be informed and take steps to help.”

A copy of the report and resources can be found at


Background information

• Many microbes that commonly cause infectious disease in humans and animals are becoming resistant to the antimicrobial medicines used to treat these diseases. (microbes include viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites)

• Antimicrobial resistance is a serious global health problem, especially given the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance among common disease-causing bacteria. (For example, resistant-bacteria include those that cause skin infections, pneumonia and urinary tract infections; some bacteria are resistant to multiple antibiotics including last resort antibiotics, reserved for difficult to treat infections where other treatment options have been exhausted. Infections caused by these bacteria are essentially untreatable, and can lead to the death of the patient).

• Estimates suggest that without urgent action infections due to antimicrobial-resistant microbes could kill 10 million people globally per year by 2050.

• Within New Zealand, use and misuse of antimicrobial medicines, as well as international travel and trade, could accelerate the spread of resistance leading to increased morbidity and mortality amongst our community.

• Government departments, research institutes, human and animal health organisations are working together to prepare a national action plan on combating resistance, but this can only delay and reduce the severity of the increasing impact here.

• Everyone can help by practising high standards of hygiene, taking antibiotics only as prescribed, and not insisting on antibiotics if unnecessary. (Recommendations by WHO)

• Antimicrobial medicines help combat many common diseases including tuberculosis, malaria, human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), sexually transmitted diseases and pneumonia.

• Antibiotics treat and prevent bacterial infections, making possible and improving the safety of chemotherapy, bone marrow or organ transplants, joint replacements and other surgery.

• Antimicrobial-resistant microbes are present in every region of the world, including New Zealand.

About Royal Society Te Apārangi

Royal Society Te Apārangi is an independent not-for-profit organisation that supports all New Zealanders to explore, discover and share knowledge.

Its varied programmes provide funding and learning opportunities for researchers, teachers and school students, together with those who are simply curious about the world.

To celebrate the discoveries of New Zealand researchers, Royal Society Te Apārangi awards medals and elects Fellows who are leaders in their fields.

These experts help the Society to provide independent advice to New Zealanders and the government on issues of public concern.

The Society has a broad network of members and friends around New Zealand and invites all those who value the work New Zealanders do in exploring, discovering and sharing knowledge to join with them.

To discover more visit

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