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Greens secure antibiotic resistance surveillance

13 May 2008

Greens help set up antibiotic resistance surveillance scheme

The Green Party has secured $4 million funding over four years to establish a comprehensive antibiotic resistant surveillance system in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health will administer the new system, and work with the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to enhance services and improve the surveillance and control of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

"The aim is to have a comprehensive surveillance system that monitors not only prescriptions of antibiotics but also the levels of antibiotic resistance in our hospitals, our communities, our environment and in food producing animals," Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley says.

"This will give us a picture of whether antibiotic resistance is increasing in New Zealand, and if so, where the resistant organisms are emerging from.

"Many antibiotics have lost their power against common bacteria. Common strains of salmonella, E. coli and staphylococcus are becoming resistant to a wide variety of antibiotics. Scientists say it is only a matter of time before antibiotics will become ineffective in treating many human diseases. If we don't move swiftly and antibiotic resistance continues to spread at its current rate, microbiologists warn we will squander the greatest medical advance of the 20th century," Ms Kedgley says.

"The superbug MRSA has already spread into communities in New Zealand, as well as hospitals, and it is vital that we were able to track its spread, in order to put in place strategies to reduce resistance." Ms Kedgley says the continuous feeding of low doses of antibiotics to millions of factory farmed animals is also contributing to the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and their subsequent transfer to humans and the environment: "To keep antibiotics working for people who need them, it's vital to stop feeding antibiotics that are significant to human medicine to millions of healthy animals."

The Ministry of Health will seek advice from the Antimicrobial Resistance Advisory Group (ARAG) around options for enhancing surveillance in June.

The new surveillance system is likely to include

* Surveillance of antibiotics used in the community and/or hospital setting

* Additional testing by national laboratory services of the Environmental Science and Research (ESR)

* A contestable pool for research projects

* Working with New Zealand Food Safety Authority on surveillance and monitoring of antimicrobial use and resistance in food producing animals.

ENDS

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