The great advances in modern medicine are under threat if we do not act now. For decades we have turned to antibiotics to both cure and prevent infection and for many of us, we cannot imagine life without them. Microbes are however incredibly clever; they become resistant to the drugs we use to treat them through the process of natural selection. The evolution of resistance is escalated through human action – primarily the overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in humans, animals and the environment, leading to infections that are increasingly difficult to treat.
We desperately need new antimicrobials and alternatives to antimicrobials. Without effective drugs to fight infection, common medical interventions such as caesarean sections, chemotherapy and hip replacements will become incredibly risky and transplant medicine would be a thing of the past. This seems unthinkable but if antibiotics lose their effectiveness, modern medicine as we know it would meet its end.
Each year approximately 700,000 people around the world die due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis, pneumonia and malaria. If no action is taken, it has been estimated that drug-resistant infections will kill 10 million people a year by 2050. In low- and middle-income countries the lack of access to quality assured medicines further drives resistance and the prevalence of counterfeit drugs increases this health risk. Not only does antimicrobial resistance (AMR) pose a significant threat to life, but also economic stability. The greatest impact is expected to be felt in low-income countries, with such countries seeing the largest drops in economic growth, further fuelling the high- to low-income country divide.
Since 2013 the UK has been leading the way in the response to this escalating threat. Through our five year (2013-2018) cross-government UK AMR strategy, we have been working to slow the development and spread of AMR by focusing activities around 3 strategic aims:
- Improve the knowledge and understanding of AMR;
- Conserve and steward the effectiveness of existing treatments; and
- Stimulate the development of new antibiotics, diagnostics and novel therapies.
To compliment this growing understanding, I am delighted to see the launch of one of the Fleming Funds newest programmes led by the Tropical Health and Education Trust and the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association. The partnership will see new Commonwealth Health Partnerships created in four countries (Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia). Volunteer NHS pharmacists, specialist nurses and others health workers will travel to participating Commonwealth nations to work in partnership with local health workers to share expertise and jointly tackle the growing challenge of AMR. This programme will support countries to optimise the use of medicines and further strengthen in-country capacity to tackle AMR.
The new scheme, funded by the Fleming Fund as part of UK aid from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is part of the wider commitment to spend up to £265million to help put AMR and relevant data in the hands of the decision makers in low- and middle-income countries and support positive action to tackle AMR.