Tackling resistance to antibiotics — understand, reflect and then act

The first step towards solving any problem is awareness.

In the discussion around antimicrobial resistance, awareness building has been in full swing. Advocacy efforts have been highlighting the urgent need for stronger international partnerships. Consequently, in early 2014 WHO published the first-ever global report on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), calling for rapid changes to our current way of caring for health.

The next step towards solving a realised problem is action.

It has been reported that one of the ways of tackling antimicrobial resistance is the creation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Antimicrobial Resistance (IPAMR). Following the lead of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPAMR could help “identify key knowledge gaps; find solutions needed to fill them; set short- and long-term goals; evaluate barriers for implementation, and design road maps for sustainable solutions.”

Such panel will move the conversation ahead and enable a stronger mandate for action.

How are we contributing?

Recognising this, it was time to initiate a movement that would encourage the diagnostics industry to deliver solutions for the longer term. Therefore, we hosted the “The Fight Against Antimicrobial Resistance: Are Diagnostics Winning?” event on the occasion of the 67th World Health Assembly. Speakers from the WHO, UNITAID, Ghana Ministry of Health, and Médecins Sans Frontières identified existing gaps in tackling AMR while highlighting the role of diagnostics.

A briefing document was provided to the panelists to ensure their talking points focused on answering the following questions:

  • What are your organisation’s needs for combating antimicrobial resistance?
  • How can the encountered gaps in the system be filled?
  • How does your organisation perceive the role of diagnostics? Are they adequately serving their purpose? Where can improvements be made?

The gaps are now clear:

  • Available diagnostic tests take time to run; leading clinicians to forgo tests altogether and prescribe multiple medications.
  • Diagnostic tests catering to the resource-challenged are desperately needed. Affordability and appropriateness of tests is of paramount importance.
  • Data collection and global consensus on methodology would be helpful in tracking resistant strains.

During the event planning process, we were quick to fall pray to talking more and doing less. Our event much like every other would have highlighted the well known facts — AMR is a global burden and diagnostics are essential tools. But asking the simple question, “Are diagnostics winning?” gave us the insights we needed to do more.

How can you help?

Wherever you fit into the equation of antimicrobial resistance, I suggest:

Understand. Avoid restating the problem. Advocacy efforts have brought all of us on the same page — AMR is a global burden. Focus on where you can play your part.

Reflect. Find solutions that have worked so far. Identify concrete challenges that lie ahead. Research answers to the questions: “How did we get here?” “How can we avoid making the same mistakes?”

Act. Set targets for short- and long-term solutions. Coordinate incentives. Understand concretely whose help you can use. Design a road map to help see the bigger picture.

A version of this post first appeared on shwetakvb.com

Shweta Kulkarni Van Biesen is a global health specialist, with an interest in health policy and emerging technologies. You may reach her on @shwetakvb or shwetakvb.com

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