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Antimicrobial resistance awareness still a necessity amidst the pandemic

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when infection-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites build up an immunity to medications and multiply. [Courtesy]

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the top ten threats to global health today, driven by the misuse or overuse of antimicrobials1 such as antibiotics2. However, its seriousness has been greatly overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic3.

Dr Soroh Kodjo, Medical Director at Pfizer for East and Anglo West Africa, says that addressing the plight of antimicrobial resistance is instrumental in the treatment of sepsis, a potentially fatal condition as a result of the body’s reaction to an infection4.

“This is particularly important as 13 September 2021 marks World Sepsis Day,” explains Dr Kodjo. “Antimicrobial resistance presents an immense challenge for the effective treatment of sepsis, and as more pathogens become resistant to antimicrobial medications, the greater the risk of people developing sepsis.”

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when infection-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites build up an immunity to the medications intended to kill them and continue to multiply. While antimicrobial medications are important to fight infections and reduce mortality rates, antimicrobial resistance increases naturally1 when the medication is used, misused or taken unnecessarily - adding to the already problematic global plight.

It poses a serious challenge in the effective prevention and treatment of diseases caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi8. So much so that the United Nations’ Ad hoc Interagency Coordinating Group on Antimicrobial Resistance suggests that drug-resistant diseases as a result of antimicrobial resistance could lead to an estimated 10 million deaths annually by 2050, with the economic impact being comparable to the 2008/2009 global financial crisis.

“Sepsis in its own right is a threat to human health, affecting as many as 30 million people worldwide and resulting in between six and nine million deaths each year,” she says. “It is the body’s extreme reaction to an infection and can lead to septic shock - a sudden drop in blood pressure that can result in serious organ issues and even death10. Commonly identified as the final pathway to death from potential organ failure, patients are required to be treated quickly to stop symptoms worsening, with antibiotics being administered within an hour of the patient arriving at the healthcare facility.”

Research indicates that as many as 10 per cent of patients with sepsis do not receive prompt antibiotic therapy, with mortality rates increasing by between 10 per cent and 15 per cent when compared to patients that received the correct medications timeously. In the case of patients with septic shock, every hour that treatment is delayed results in a significant increase in the mortality rate.

While antimicrobial resistance efforts may have taken a backseat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains a priority, suggests Dr Kodjo. “Everyone has a role to play and it starts with infection prevention. The public should prioritise effective hygiene practices and ensure that vaccinations are up-to-date, while authorities must ensure access to vaccines for all.”

The misuse of antimicrobial medication can come from the prescription of the incorrect antibiotic, the incorrect dosage, or taking the medication for the incorrect length of time. Antimicrobial medication such as antibiotics should only be taken when they are needed, and as prescribed by your medical practitioner. The benefits of antibiotics outweigh their side effects, but should they be used inappropriately, it could lead to antimicrobial resistance.

Adding to this, coordinated programmes such as antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) can reduce antimicrobial resistance by calling for the responsible prescribing of medications and advocating for the responsible use of antimicrobial medications to improve infection treatments, protect patients from side effects, and limit medication overuse that can lead to antimicrobial resilience.

“Education through antimicrobial stewardship initiatives is imperative. With awareness being achieved through effective communication and training, it is an effective tool in the fight against antimicrobial resistance,” concludes Dr Kodjo.

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