Experts report to UN on AMR

Posted on 6th December 2017

Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest health challenges of modern times – and now two world-leading academics have reported to the United Nations on how the problem can be spread through our natural environment.

Dr Will Gaze and Professor Michael Depledge were lead authors on the report to the UN Environment Assembly, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.

Dr Gaze travelled to an Assembly meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss how pollution and human interactions with the natural environment can contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The report highlighted the issue as one of the greatest emerging environmental concerns in the world.

The World Health Organization has warned that we may be entering an era in which antibiotics are no longer effective to kill simple, and previously treatable, bacterial infections. This would mean that infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhoea, and food and waterborne diseases could be fatal. It would also mean that it would no longer be possible to use antibiotics to prevent infection in routine medical procedures, such as joint replacements and chemotherapy.

The 2014 O’Neill report commissioned by the UK government estimated that antimicrobial resistant infections may become the leading cause of death globally by 2050.

Dr Gaze emphasised the role the environment can play in spreading the problem – an aspect that has had relatively little attention, yet is key to slowing the spread of the issue. Resistant bacteria are also released into the natural environment. For example, streams, rivers and seawater can be contaminated via run-off from farms and from sewage.

Dr Gaze said: “So far, a lot of attention has focussed on reducing antibiotic use, and that’s a key factor, but it’s equally important to understand more about how resistance is spread through our natural environments, so that we can find ways to prevent that happening. I welcome the opportunity to highlight this crucial research on a global stage.”

Read the full report Frontiers 17: Emerging issues of environmental concern.

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