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Tackling antimicrobial resistance

9 June 2016
by Guest author

Multidrug-resistant K. pneumoniae bacteria interacting with blood cells

Michele Cecchini, OECD Health Division

Not so long ago, catching pneumonia with a bloodstream infection meant almost certain death: 90% of patients with this condition died. The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 changed everything. Now more than 90% of patients with such a disease survive and many of the achievements of modern medicine are intrinsically based on our ability to prevent and cure infections. In addition, the prevention and cure of hospital-acquired infections have allowed the introduction of complex medical interventions such as organ transplantations, advanced surgery, and care of premature neonates.

All these medical achievements may be swept away by antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Microorganisms can learn how to withstand attacks by drugs.  By using antimicrobials incorrectly, we are helping them to do this quicker than they would do on their own. At the OECD, we have calculated that about 50% of all the antimicrobials prescribed by healthcare facilities in our member countries do not meet prescription guidelines. In healthcare services such as long-term care facilities and general practices up to 70% and 90% respectively of antibiotics may be prescribed for inappropriate reasons.

The extensive use of antimicrobials in high-density livestock agriculture and aquaculture is further sustaining the growth of AMR, particularly because, worldwide, up to 70% of antimicrobials are given to animals, often for no other reason than to make them grow more quickly.

The health and economic consequences of AMR are significant but will become enormous if no action is promptly put in place. The report produced by Jim O’Neill and his team provides an idea of what may happen if we do not take action soon. According to their estimates, up to 10 million people worldwide may die by 2050 due to six common diseases for which resistance is growing. This figure becomes even more significant (and alarming) by considering that many common infections, such as the main cause of community-acquired pneumonia, are not included in the analysis.

Healthcare budgets and the whole economy may be also put under stress. Patients developing resistant infections are more difficult to treat and we calculated that each patient costs up to an additional 40,000 USD due to increased medicalisation and time spent in hospitals. This figure is likely to double once indirect costs (e.g. absence from work) are taken into account.

The main issue now is to assess what we can all do to address AMR. The OECD Health Division is joining forces with our colleagues in the Directorate of Trade and Agriculture and with the Directorate of Science and Technology to provide sound evidence on the most effective and cost-effective policy options to tackle AMR. During the 2015 meeting of the Health Minsters of G7 countries, the OECD put forward five recommendations to best address AMR and its associated health and economic burden. In particular we believe that AMR can be successfully tackled only by:

  1. Strengthening existing surveillance and monitoring systems. Countries should further develop their surveillance systems to monitor AMR in the community setting (as opposed to hospitals) and to increase the number of microorganisms covered. We also need better information on antimicrobial prescribing practices.
  2. Adopting a globally agreed set of measurable targets on AMR incidence and efficient antibiotic use. Measurement of these targets should be integral part of a continuous evaluation processes.
  3. Strengthening ongoing efforts to rationalise antibiotics use and prevention of AMR spread in the human and livestock sectors. Rational utilization of antimicrobials includes both decreasing inappropriate use and ensuring access to high-quality drugs when needed. Successful and efficient interventions should be upscaled at the national level and across countries.
  4. Fostering the research and development of new antimicrobial therapies. Investments to develop new antimicrobials should be delinked from expected sales through appropriate economic incentives. Knowledge-sharing, for example, through global research platforms, should be encouraged as a cost-effective approach to research and innovation.
  5. Increasing coordination between partners to upscale efforts into a true global action. Countries’ action plans should be designed to reflect international standards and by adopting a ‘one-health’ approach. Coordinating strategies and best practices with other key partners would offer an opportunity to upscale efforts in an efficient fashion.

The final report of the Review on AMR led by Jim O’Neill discusses ten specific interventions that the UK and other countries should put in place to tackle AMR. Such actions are very much aligned with the five-pronged approach that we propose and with the WHO Global Strategy for Containment of AMR. The next step is to tailor these actions to the specific context and challenges of the different countries. The OECD can provide a forum where governments can discuss, develop and coordinate new strategies for prudent antimicrobials use in human medicine and agriculture as well as coordinate common strategies to incentivize the research and development of new antimicrobial therapies.

The OECD is putting in place a comprehensive programme of work on AMR, ranging from identifying the most cost-effective strategies to tackle AMR in humans to curbing unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture. Some of the early results of this work, specifically on promoting the rational use of antimicrobials in humans, will be discussed during the 2017 OECD Health Ministerial meeting. OECD is ready to stand next to Member Countries and other key partners to move forward in the fight against AMR.

Useful linksantibiotic consumption

Antimicrobial Resistance in G7 Countries and Beyond G7 Health Ministers Meeting, Berlin, 8 October 2015

OECD Workshop: Economics of Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in the Livestock Sector 12 October 2015

Antimicrobial resistance in G7 countries: OECD Policy Brief

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