Increasing threat of animal-to-human diseases
Increasing threat of animal-to-human diseases –
and antibiotic resistance in both – ring alarm bells at
02/02/2018, Bangkok, Thailand – Zoonotic diseases and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans resulting in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) are converging in Asia-Pacific countries with potential deadly effects, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned today.
'Superbugs', otherwise known as multiple-drug resistant bacteria, are on the rise worldwide, threatening the last lines of defence in treating humans and endangering food production systems because of the indiscriminate use of antimicrobials in livestock, including use of 'last hope' antibiotics such as Colistin in clinics, food and farming.
“We need to take action on AMR now because it affects us all,” said Dr. Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinarian and coordinator of the Organization’s fight against AMR. He acknowledged that while antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics improved quality of life, wellbeing and welfare, their overuse and misuse in both humans and animals are resulting in the spread of AMR, which is complicating management of many infectious diseases.
The link between animal and human AMR is important. Studies have shown that nearly all emerging infectious diseases reported during the second half of the 20th century (95 percent) were zoonotic related – in other words, they originated in animals.
More than half the world's population is concentrated in Asia where levels of antimicrobial resistance are particularly high and the transboundary threat of AMR is of particular concern. FAO and other organizations are calling for greater surveillance of antimicrobial agents, their residues and the reporting of the detection of resistant bacteria, and to reduce imprudent reliance on antimicrobials across sectors to keep existing antibiotics effective by improving good agricultural practices – in terrestrial or aquatic environments.
"Antibiotics and other antimicrobials are vital to treat sick animals and to protect public health by preventing the spread of disease and by keeping pathogens off our plates," Lubroth told delegates at the Prince Mahidol Awards Conference (PMAC) in Bangkok, where the theme of this year’s annual conference is AMR and emerging infectious diseases.
Boosting vaccine access will help farmers tackle superbugs in Asia
Part of the problem of AMR in agriculture is that farmers overuse antibiotics in their livestock as a misguided ‘insurance policy’ to keep the animals healthy long enough to get them to market. But eventually the bacteria and microbes can become resistant to the antibiotic.
"The inappropriate use of antimicrobials in food and agriculture – in all sectors – is a problem contributing to the AMR crisis because every time we use these medicines we risk blunting their effectiveness for the future," said Lubroth.
Poor access to quality and affordable vaccines, and expert veterinary advice in many places, is an impediment to reducing antimicrobial use, especially for the rural poor, while antibiotics are relatively cheap and easy to access from market stalls without prescription. Of additional concern, is the quality of what is available outside regulated stores – as substandard or falsified medicines are available to an uninformed buyer. This is true in veterinary medicine as it is for human use.
"Governments have a responsibility to their country and to the global community to step-up and ensure that adequate regulations for antimicrobial use and distribution are in-place and enforced," said Lubroth, "This responsibility extends to providing incentive programmes and enabling mechanisms to help farmers transition away from an unsustainable dependency on antibiotics."
As many as five million deaths per year in Asia may be attributed to resistant infections by 2050, as countries carrying a heavier burden of infectious disease are especially vulnerable to AMR. In developing countries, the risk of AMR transmission through food and water is considered high by the World Health Organization (WHO).
"What history has taught us is that when faced with a global crisis of this magnitude, collaboration and support for marginalized communities will help us find our way through it, but we have to act now," Lubroth emphasized.
FAO working with countries to address AMR
FAO is fully committed to the need of a multi-sectoral approach to address the spread of zoonotic and other high impact threats of animal origin, including AMR. According to Lubroth “we also need to protect human, animal, plant and environmental health from AMR though improved communication to all sectors. This applies to rich and poor producers, poultry, beef, shrimp or wheat farmers, as well as physicians, veterinarians and agronomists so as to better manage AMR through basic good practices in agriculture production as this can contribute to a reduction of risk of disease and need for antimicrobials.”
working with countries in the Asia-Pacific region including
Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Philippines and Viet Nam to
develop and implement National Action Plans on AMR to raise
awareness, promote good practices and legislation, and boost
surveillance, with support from donors like the UK's Fleming Fund and the United States
Agency for International Development (USAID).
FAO has also developed and piloted the Assessment Tool for Laboratories and Antimicrobial Surveillance Systems (ATLASS) in five Asian countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam) to help them assess their national AMR surveillance systems and laboratories to identify gaps for investment and improvement.