UN General Assembly acts on antimicrobial resistance

World leaders are focusing to an unprecedented extent on curbing the spread of antimicrobial medicine-resistant infections

For the first time, Heads of State have committed to taking a broad, coordinated approach to address the root causes of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) across multiple sectors, especially human health, animal health and agriculture.

This is only the fourth time a health issue has been taken up by the UN General Assembly (the others were HIV, noncommunicable diseases, and Ebola). The high-level meeting was convened by the President of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Peter Thomson.

“Antimicrobial resistance threatens the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and requires a global response,” Thomson says.

“Member States have today agreed upon a strong political declaration that provides a good basis for the international community to move forward. No one country, sector or organisation can address this issue alone.”

Countries reaffirmed their commitment to develop national action plans on AMR, based on the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance — the blueprint for tackling AMR developed in 2015 by WHO in coordination with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Leaders have recognised the need for stronger systems to monitor drug-resistant infections and the volume of antimicrobials used in humans, animals, and crops, as well as increased international cooperation and funding.

They pledged to strengthen regulation of antimicrobials, improve knowledge and awareness, and promote best practices — as well as to foster innovative approaches using alternatives to antimicrobials and new technologies for diagnosis and vaccines.

“It is reassuring to hear the UN member states have made a pledge to make a coordinated global response to combat antibiotic resistance,” says Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake, a practising infectious diseases physician at the Australian National University Medical School

“It was also important to see a non-medical figure and leading international diplomat such as Ban Ki-Moon talking about the deaths of 200,000 newborns every year due to antibiotic-resistant infections, and a host of antibiotic-resistant infections, such as typhoid, gonorrhoea, HIV/AIDS and TB.

“This shows that the world’s political leaders are officially acknowledging on the global stage that this is a problem. But the goodwill coming out of today’s meeting must be followed up by the less exciting but nevertheless vital documented/signed commitment to funding, surveillance, research etc. Otherwise the momentum from today’s meeting will be lost and the problem of antibiotic resistance will continue to grow.

“Antibiotic resistance is responsible for 700,000 deaths globally and 50,000 deaths within the USA and Europe every year. By 2050, if the problem is not addressed, it will potentially cause ten million deaths per year at a cost of $100 trillion dollars,” warns A/Prof Senanayake.

“What is most worrying is that this is already happening now, and only within 80 years of antibiotics being used. It doesn’t simply involve the medical sector, but also the pharmaceutical, agricultural and farming industries.

“Due to its complexity and enormous reach, global political will is needed to address and fund this problem. The political recognition is now there with official reports and bodies created by the Obama and UK governments to tackle antibiotic resistance.

“However, today’s historic meeting of the UN General Assembly (only the 4th for an infectious diseases issue) will take this problem to another level, giving its profile a massive boost with all 193 member nations hopefully becoming signatories to combat this problem.

“While this unprecedented recognition of antibiotic resistance is good, it would be ideal if firm targets were proposed at the UN, such as per capita antibiotic consumption, and firm commitments to funding. One scientist involved in the panel today’s meeting has previously suggested $5 billion/year.

“If there is a lack of universal commitments from today’s UN meeting from all the member states, especially with regard to funding, it will be disappointing, despite the high profile it brings to this issue.

“Decisive coordinated global action and funding is required now.”

For more on antimicrobial resistance, visit NPS MedicineWise.

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