Antimicrobial Resistance – a Health Threat to Millions

30 Nov 2022

In recent decades, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) has become one of the most serious threats to human health. The World Health Organization defines AMR as one of the 10 greatest threats to human health. Why is this such a serious problem? What are the implications for the world’s population health and what needs to be done to overcome this crisis? We answer these and other questions in the following material.

What is AMR and why is it dangerous?

Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of microorganisms (bacteria) to become resistant to the action of an antimicrobial agent to which they were previously sensitive. AMR eliminates the benefits of penicillin and antibiotics, drugs that changed forever modern medicine that had saved millions of lives. This poses a serious threat to global healthcare because “harmless” infections are beginning to turn fatal.

What is the scale of the problem?

In the European Union, more than 25,000 people die each year due to AMR, and according to the largest study on the subject, more than 1.2 million people died from antimicrobial resistance in 2019 alone, on a global scale. This statistic surpasses even the annual mortality from malaria and AIDS. Among the most vulnerable groups for the development of AMR are:

  • elderly (65+ years)
  • people with chronic diseases
  • people with a weakened immune system

When standard medicines cannot cope with the infections of our daily life, the creation of new substances is necessary, which are increasingly expensive. Moreover, the treatment of these diseases becomes longer, and more difficult, and often requires a long hospital stay. These factors significantly increase the cost of treating a “common” infection which results in depriving access to healthcare for a large group of people.

Standard procedures such as organ transplantation, chemotherapy, and even cesarean sections become much more dangerous to perform as the risk of developing an incurable infection increases significantly. All these factors make AMR one of the biggest threats to the health of modern people.

What causes the development of AMR in the body?

The main reason for antimicrobial resistance development is the overuse of antibiotics. Although resistance can develop naturally, the overuse of antibiotic medications increases massively the development of the problem.

According to a study in 27 countries, it is clear that the use of antibiotics has fallen by 18% in the last few years. However, in Bulgaria, the statistics show the exact opposite: Bulgaria is the only one among these countries that overuse antibiotics with a growth of 30%, and azithromycin with 100% (information is from the beginning of the pandemic until now).

How did the pandemic contribute to the development of the problem?

The main driver for the development of the problem in the last 2 years was the COVID-19 pandemic. The panic and fear of contracting the virus have led many people to start taking antibiotics as a preventative measure, even though their prescription is for bacterial, not viral, infections. Many doctors have warned that antibiotics do not cure COVID-19, except in very severe cases. However, the use of this type of medication has reached new heights, and the main reason is the lack of awareness among patients about the overall effect of the medication on the body.

Plan to overcome AMR

In 2017 a European Action Plan against Antimicrobial Resistance was adopted, which aims to find innovative, effective, and sustainable responses to the problem. The plan includes training for general practitioners, as well as for their patients, to better inform them about how antibiotics work. The aim is to reduce the number of antibiotics prescribed without a real need and without a previously made antibiogram.

The introduction of a new module in medical universities, including in the veterinary sector, is also envisaged, which will also affect the treatment of animals, as well as the regulation of unnecessary or expired antibiotics disposal in the environment.

General recommendations

The World Health Organization recommends following a few simple steps to reduce the spread of AMR globally:

1. Use antibiotics only if prescribed by a medical professional.

2. Always follow your doctor’s exact instructions for taking the medication.

3. Never use antibiotics prescribed for another person.

4. Protect yourself from the development of infections by having good personal hygiene and not consuming food from uncertified sources.

5. Avoid contact with contagious people and do not miss your mandatory vaccinations.

Can digital healthcare help?

Access to quality medical care is a right of every person, but sometimes factors such as geographical distance or lack of time prevent a meeting between a patient and a medical professional.

The Medrec:M digital health platform provides a telemedicine function that enables remote consultations. This significantly facilitates communication between doctor and patient without compromising the quality of care. Learn more about Medrec:M’s capabilities here.