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Prevent Antimicrobial Resistance

Chairperson of the Professional Board for Speech, Lanaguage and Hearing Chairperson, Prof Ramma, reminds healthcare practitioners of their pivotal role in the prevention of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

Antibiotics are widely recognized as one of the most significant developments in the history of modern medicine.[1] However, if their overuse and misuse is not halted, both in modern medicine and food production, about 10 million people will die annually from drug-resistant bacterial infections within 35 years. [2] The death toll will be worse on Africa and Asia, which are projected to account for about 4.1 and 4.7 million deaths, respectively, and the world’s economy will lose more than 7% of its GDP (US$210 trillion) by 2050.[2]

While the above paragraph is presenting what seems like a future impact of AMR, the situation is far from futuristic as projected above. The negative impact of AMR is already playing out here in South Africa and other countries across the world.

Decision to withhold surgery based purely on the patient being colonised by pan-resistant bacteria are being made, and people are dying untreatable infections in our hospitals and communities. [3] Most South African health professionals will also recall the MDR-TB epidemic that dominated health news headlines in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simply stated, abuse of antibiotics, by both prescribers and recipients, is destroying modern medicine and unless all of us start changing our behaviour towards antibiotic use, we will most certainly lose the ‘miracle of antibiotics.’ 3] Both prescribers and recipients have important roles in addressing this problem. Practitioners registered in the SLH Board are recipients (as opposed to prescribers) and their role will therefore be mostly on the side of responsible use: Starting with preventing infections that require antibiotics in the first place. Washing hands, preparing food hygienically and keeping up to date with vaccinations, for ourselves and our loved ones are all measures to help avoid infections. Also, as users, simple measures such as refraining from pressuring our doctors to prescribe antibiotics, even when they advise against it, can go a long way in curbing this impending threat. Furthermore, as users, we can help address this problem by doing the following: avoiding taking an antibiotic for a virus, not saving an antibiotic for the next time you get sick, taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your doctor, not skipping doses, and never taking an antibiotic prescribed for someone else. Finally, safe disposal of antibiotics waste is also a big part of the solution.

At a global stage, the World Health Organization is driving initiatives to prevent AMR crisis. To that extent, the May 2015 World Health Assembly adopted a global action plan on antimicrobial resistance, which outlines the following five objectives: [4]

  • to improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance through effective communication, education, and training;
  • to strengthen the knowledge and evidence base through surveillance and research;
  • to reduce the incidence of infection through effective sanitation, hygiene, and infection prevention measures;
  • to optimise the use of antimicrobial medicines in human and animal health; and
  • to develop the economic case for sustainable investment that takes into account of the needs of all countries and to increase investment in new medicines, diagnostic tools, vaccines, and other interventions.

With this approach, the main goal of ensuring treatment and prevention of infectious diseases with quality-assured, safe, and effective medicines is achievable.

It is crucial that practitioners in the SLH professions also join both national and global efforts to curb AMR crisis. We may not be prescribers, but we also hold significant amount of power, first as users of antibiotics and secondly, as health professionals who may regularly engage with individuals who use antibiotics. We are therefore better placed to spread the message against antibiotics abuse or overuse and be advocates for responsible use of these agents.

Readers of this commentary are encouraged to read the entire guest editorial article (one page only) referenced below:

List of References:

  1. Hamilton, K. W. (2019). Miracle Cure: The creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine. Emerg Inf Dis, 25(1):196
  2. Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. December 2014. . Accessed 6 June 2023.
  3. Mendelson, M & Mtsoso, M. P. (2015). The World Health Organization Global Action Plan for antimicrobial resistance, S Afr Med J;105(5):325)
  4. World Health Organization. (2015). Global Action Plan for Antimicrobial Resistance. Accessed 6 June 2023

Last Updated on 15 September 2023 by HPCSA Corporate Affairs