From the healthcare sector and pharmaceutical manufacturers to researchers and food producers – action is needed on many fronts if we are to solve the crisis of antibiotic resistance. And the biggest challenge of all is making this happen in every country in the world.
Recent years have seen several important advances. The issue of antibiotic resistance has risen to the top of the global political agenda and is being driven forward by bodies such as the EU, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Countries across the world must now continue to work on this together, including taking the following actions:
Reduce unnecessary use
The more antibiotics we use, the greater the risk that bacteria will develop resistance to them. So it is important that antibiotics are used correctly and only when they are really needed. In many countries it is still possible to buy antibiotics without a prescription, which potentially leads to unnecessary use. In Sweden, by contrast, antibiotics require a prescription, which means that only doctors, vets and certain other categories of professionals can supply them.
Globally, the public’s attitude to antibiotics must change too. This means more people need to be aware of when antibiotics really are needed and when they are unnecessary.
Keep track of how resistance is developing
Monitoring the progress of resistance will help us to understand which bacteria are becoming resistant to different antibiotics. This is important, as those prescribing antibiotics need to be able to determine which type of antibiotic will have an effect on a particular infection, so that they do not issue the wrong type unnecessarily. So monitoring resistance will help to ensure that the right type of antibiotic is only prescribed and used when it is really needed. Many countries are not in a position to monitor resistance effectively, and so Sweden supports countries to develop various kinds of resistance monitoring, including working alongside the WHO.
Prevent the occurrence and spread of infection
Healthy people and animals do not need antibiotics. If infections and the spread of disease can be prevented, fewer people will need to be treated with antibiotics. Resistant bacteria will be less able to develop and spread too. So preventive healthcare, vaccination programmes and work on hygiene in the healthcare sector, the veterinary sector, animal husbandry and the food industry all have a direct or indirect role to play in the effort to combat antibiotic resistance. The more effective our work in these areas – both in Sweden and the rest of the world – the better.
Reduce releases into the environment
When antibiotics get into the environment, there is greater risk of resistance being developed in bacteria found in nature. The traits of resistance can then spread from harmless environmental bacteria to disease-causing bacteria. To reduce the release of antibiotics into the environment, for example, we can ensure that there are no releases during the manufacturing process that may lead to bacteria developing resistance. We can also improve the treatment of waste water, reducing the inflow of antibiotics into the environment.
Research and develop expertise and medicines
The development of antibiotics by the pharmaceutical industry has slowed down in the last 30 years. Although some new preparations are on the way, it will be some time before we can use them. More research and development are needed. There is a particular shortage of new antibiotics that work on infections caused by resistant gut bacteria. Sweden is leading the international “Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR)” in which 19 countries are jointly supporting research into the development of antibiotics, diagnostics and ways to reduce antibiotic resistance.
You can help too
Every little bit of help counts. You too can do your bit to ensure that future generations have access to effective antibiotics as we have had. Find out more about what you can do.