Veterinarians and health experts gathered in Melbourne this week to take action against antimicrobial resistance, one of the greatest threats to both human and animal health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that unless urgent action is taken on the use of antibiotics in humans and animals, the world is heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.
On Thursday the European Commission adopted a new Action Plan to combat Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), launching with the first step, the introduction of European Union guidelines on the prudent use of antimicrobials in human health.
Antomicrobials include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiprotozoals. They are active
substances of synthetic or natural origin which kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms. Used in
everyday medicine, they are vital to preventing and treating infections in humans and animals.
Antibiotic resistance and the emergence of ‘superbugs’ is a global problem.
At the Melbourne summit, also on Thursday, Dr Paula Parker, national president of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), said the veterinary profession had long been proactive in working alongside human health experts to fight antibiotic resistance.
She said antibiotic resistance was increasing “at a frightening pace”.
AMR already presents a serious social and economic burden. It is estimated to be responsible
for 25,000 deaths per year in the EU alone and 700,000 deaths per year globally. Inaction is
projected to cause millions of deaths globally: It has been estimated that AMR might cause more
deaths than cancer by 2050.
In 2015, the Australian government released its first ever National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy to guide the response to the threat of antibiotic misuse and resistance. Veterinarians were involved in the development of this strategy, which includes priorities for action relating to antibiotic use in animals.
“Australian veterinarians have judicious use guidelines in place that inform their use of antibiotics. These guidelines help to ensure we’re not overprescribing or misusing antibiotics. The AVA has also embarked on a three-year project in partnership with Animal Medicines Australia to develop best-practice antibiotic prescribing guidelines for horses and the main livestock species,” Parker said.
“Australia is part of a select group of countries including Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden and Finland that have a low-level of use of antibiotics in animals compared with much of the rest of the world, and levels of important resistances are low. This is a great achievement but we can’t stop there; it’s important that we continue to improve on what we’re doing to combat antimicrobial resistance.”
She said the key was for vets to work with farmers and pet owners every day to prevent illness and disease by ensuring best practice infection prevention and control. Nutritious diets, vaccinations, good husbandry, and stress-free environments, were also needed.