What inspired your interest in AMR?
I am a Medical Doctor by training. While working in a hospital in the Netherlands as a Clinical Microbiologist, I began to see cases where common antibiotics that we had relied on in the past were not working to treat the patients’ infections. But at the same time, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge at the national level about drug-resistant infections. I believe strongly that good quality information is key to stimulate effective action and this lack of knowledge inspired me to collaborate with my colleagues to establish the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network (EARS-Net), to collect information on AMR to support decisions that will ultimately protect society from entering a post-antimicrobial era.
What are the main aims of the WHO Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat?
Antibiotics are the foundation of modern medicine—they are essential for the treatment of infections and have made major surgery and cancer chemotherapy possible. The overall goal of our work is to ensure that we can continue to treat and prevent infectious diseases with these effective and safe medicines. To achieve this goal, we developed a Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, which was adopted by WHO Member States in 2015. The Global Action Plan lays out five strategic objectives: to increase awareness and change behavior, to strengthen surveillance systems, to enhance infection prevention and control capacities, to optimize the use of antimicrobials, and to encourage research and development related to AMR.
What role does World Antibiotic Awareness Week have to play?
World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW) takes place every November and aims to increase global awareness of antibiotic resistance among the general public and to encourage best practices among the public, health workers, prescribers and policy makers to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance. This year the campaign is focused on what the general public can do to reduce the threat of AMR by preventing infections with basic interventions that are applicable in all settings: safe sex, hand washing, and vaccination.
Do you feel the challenge of AMR is surmountable?
While there is by no means a “quick fix” for AMR, I believe that we can control the spread of drug-resistant infections through collaboration around global efforts. Firstly, AMR is not confined by geographical boundaries. Therefore, we need to strengthen global health systems and universal health coverage is key. This includes improving the global population’s access to health facilities and ensuring adequate water, sanitation and hygiene conditions, both to prevent the overuse of antibiotics as a substitute for infrastructure and to improve access to quality antibiotics when they are truly needed.
Secondly, AMR is not confined to any one particular sector. While it is essential that there is an immediate focus of efforts on human health, tackling AMR ultimately requires a One Health approach, engaging the agricultural, animal and environmental sectors as key players as well.
What further measures need to be taken to tackle AMR?
There is a fundamental link between AMR and universal health coverage. While AMR threatens progress toward achieving universal health coverage by making infections more difficult and costly to treat, universal health coverage has the potential to reduce the impact of AMR. Therefore, scaling up efforts to achieve accessible health care for all is paramount.
Additionally, there is a need to scale up multisectoral working within countries to address AMR, and to foster engagement of civil society. There is also a need to enhance the quantity and quality of data that is currently available on drug-resistant infections as well as on antimicrobial consumption patterns.
Ultimately, all levels of society have a role to play. The public needs information about antimicrobials as well as resistance to be empowered in their healthcare decision-making; healthcare workers and pharmacists should be prudent when prescribing antimicrobials; and governments should develop and implement policies that are in alignment with the objectives of the Global Action Plan on AMR. We need to recognize that antimicrobials are a precious commodity and treat them as such.