In Geneva Monday, members of the World Health Assembly (WHA) endorsed a plan to fight antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on a global scale.
Health authorities are increasingly citing AMR as one of the most pressing threats to global public health. In its 2014 Antimicrobial Resistance: global report on surveillance, the World Health Organization (WHO) called AMR "so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine."
In recent years, health authorities around the world have increased efforts to understand and combat AMR. However, following an assessment of national strategies to address AMR, WHO found only a quarter of countries had comprehensive plans to address AMR, leaving "major gaps" in the global fight.
The rise of AMR is associated with the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial medicines such as antibiotics. When microbes targeted by a drug are not eliminated, treatment-resistant strains can be spread, which can have deadly consequences.
The problem is compounded by a significant decline in the development of new antimicrobial drugs in recent decades. The danger this can pose can be seen in the case of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), where over time strains of the bacteria have developed resistance to many previously effective treatments.
Global Action Plan
During the week-long 68th WHA meeting, delegates were presented with a report on progress toward implementing resolution WHA67.25, which called for members to step up efforts to combat AMR and draft a global action plan.
On Monday, the WHA passed a resolution adopting the global action plan on AMR. The action plan is based on five strategic objectives:
- "To improve awareness and understanding of AMR;
- To strengthen knowledge through surveillance and research;
- To reduce the incidence of infection;
- To optimize the use of antimicrobial agents; and
- To ensure sustainable investment in countering AMR"
To achieve these objectives, the action plan calls for global engagement, equitable access and prevention. For the plan to work, these measures must be sustainable and incremental, reflecting the different stages of progress in member states.
To successfully implement the global action plan, WHA says there needs to be "long term investment … in surveillance, operational research, laboratories, human and animal health systems, competent regulatory capacities, and professional education and training."
The plan also calls for countries to strengthen their regulatory systems to encourage the optimal use of antimicrobial medicines, "supported by appropriate enforceable regulation." The WHA Secretariat is also tasked with consulting with member states and industry associations to determine new "regulatory mechanisms" for antimicrobial medicines, such as establishing antimicrobials as a different class of product and labelling requirements that "focus on public health needs rather than marketing claims." Other parts of the plan focus on increasing regulatory control over the distribution and use of antimicrobials to limit their widespread and inappropriate use.
The global action plan also echoes recent calls for new investment models for antimicrobial research and development.
WHO Press Release, Draft Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, Draft Resolution