Can tackling antimicrobial resistance help end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity?


Healthy People, Healthy Planet is a challenge team formed by students from the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) Doctoral Training Partnership. Following an event earlier this year, team member Hiral Shah discusses how antimicrobial resistance is intrinsically linked to other global problems, and why tackling it is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed by the United Nations in 2015. A universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity, these 17 ambitious initiatives aim to transform the world by the year 2030. But there is a major global threat that could have a huge impact on whether countries can achieve the SDGs: antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance arises when the micro-organisms that cause infection become resistant to antimicrobials, such as antibiotics, disinfectants or antiseptics, that would normally kill them or stop their growth. This means that simple infections that were once easily treatable could become fatal.

It was predicted by researchers in 2016 that antimicrobial resistance will have huge and growing repercussions across the globe – approximately 700,000 people may die of drug-resistant infections every year, increasing to 10 million deaths a year by 2050.

Why facing up to antimicrobial resistance is key to achieving the SDGs

Antimicrobial resistance is a hugely complex problem that spans multiple sectors – as can be seen in the diagram below. Here we can see that many different sources and transmission pathways contribute to the ever-growing burden of AMR in clinical, animal and environment settings.

Figure 1 AMR systems map - This map shows the influences on the development of antimicrobial resistance in humans, animals and the environment
Figure 1 AMR systems map – This map shows the influences on the development of antimicrobial resistance in humans, animals and the environment

At a recent Healthy People, Healthy Planet panel discussion, we asked three experts from different sectors (Dr Kitty Healey, Head of Antimicrobial Resistance team at DEFRA; Dr Timothy Rawson, Clinical Research Fellow at Imperial’s NIHR; and Dr Andrew Singer, Senior Scientist at the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology) to discuss how tackling the crisis in antimicrobial resistance could result in progress towards the SDGs – or vice versa.

From the discussion, which you can watch in full here, three key themes considered integral for combatting antimicrobial resistance and achieving the SDGs became clear.

An interdisciplinary approach is essential

To face up to a wide-reaching challenge like antimicrobial resistance, it is essential that researchers from diverse backgrounds start to forge new connections and understand the overlap between combatting antimicrobial resistance and achieving the SDGs.

Innovation will lead to progress

From novel diagnostics, to improvements in livestock farming practices, technological innovation could play a huge role in combatting antimicrobial resistance – and in doing so, contribute positively to the progress of SDGs.

Behaviour change underpins everything

To combat antimicrobial resistance, there needs to be major behavioural change across all sectors, ranging from medical professionals, to farmers, to individuals.

For example, if a community has access to clean water and sanitation, antibiotic consumption could decrease by 60% – simply because people can wash their hands properly, farmers can provide proper sanitation for their livestock and sewage can be disposed of hygienically. This, in turn, would undoubtedly have a positive effect on the SDGs – most notably ‘Improved Health and Wellbeing’ (goal number 3), and ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’ (goal number 6).

To sum up, antimicrobial resistance is a pending medical crisis that could directly undermine progress towards the SDGs. Tackling a global challenge like this demands a multidisciplinary ‘One Health‘ approach – an approach that spans people, animals, agriculture and the wider environment. In this way, addressing antimicrobial resistance and achieving the SGDs are intrinsically linked. Therefore, we need to find synergies that can result in decreased drug resistance and improved sustainable development.

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