Message of the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, for World Antibiotic Awareness Week, 12-18 November 2018

The World Health Organization (WHO) will join the global community to observe World Antibiotic Awareness Week from 12-18 November 2018 with the overall theme “Think Twice. Seek Advice.” This year, WHO is introducing sub-themes to showcase the immense work underway to tackle antimicrobial resistance, and which demonstrate how antibiotics are linked between humans, animals and the environment.

Antibiotic resistance is a reality, threatening our future health

Nothing less than global health security is at stake when antibiotics are misused. From being miracle life-savers, antibiotics are becoming ineffective against resistant infectious which can affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria (not humans or animals) become resistant to the active ingredients in these medicines. These resistant bacteria may infect humans and animals, making infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhea harder to treat. The reasons for rising antibiotic resistance include overprescribing, misuse by patients who don’t follow the advice of healthcare professionals, overuse in farming, poor infection control, and a lack of new antibiotics. We can help by seeking advice from a health professional before taking antibiotics. They are a precious resource.

Laboratories and researchers have a critical role to play in identifying resistant bacteria and contributing to the global picture so the world can take appropriate action

Africa lacks data on the scope and scale of antibiotic resistance. However, we know that antibiotic resistance is rising because common bacteria which cause urinary tract infections, diarrhea and septic wounds among other things, are becoming resistant to readily available and prescribed antibiotics. Across the continent, laboratories can help by looking out for evidence of resistance in the bacteria they see, and to feed this information into national and regional efforts to understand how it spreads and where it poses the greatest risk

Hospitals and health centres can help keep infections at bay with thorough hygiene and sanitation practices

Infections spread when sanitation, hygiene and infection control measures are not followed.  Healthcare practitioners should always practice good infection prevention and control. In addition, they should only prescribe and dispense antibiotics when they are truly needed, inform patients on how to use them appropriately, and educate patients on how to avoid common infections. All hospitals and community health centres should strive to control the spread of infections by making use of the best possible hygiene and sanitations measures available.

Use antibiotics wisely in humans and animals that really need them

Patients should never demand nor share antibiotics, and only use them when prescribed by a certified healthcare professional. Farmers and food producers can help by giving antibiotics to animals only to control or treat infectious diseases, and phase out the routine use of antibiotics to promote growth. Ensuring that patients and animals use antibiotics only when they are really needed is critical to keeping antibiotics effective for as long as possible.

Investments are needed to build a smarter world for safe, effective medicines

Research and development is the cornerstone of new, life-saving antibiotics. However, since the 1980s, there have been very few new antibiotics. Incentives for public-private partnerships to invest in new medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tools are urgently needed to stimulate the development of new antibiotics and therapies. Governments, funding agencies and the private sector need to invest and work together to secure safe, effective medicines for generations to come.

WHO in the African Region has made the fight against antibiotic resistance a top priority, and is working with countries to develop and implement action plans to combat antibiotic resistance and generate reliable data for action. We are helping countries to build resilient health systems through stronger regulation and policies which promote the appropriate use of quality antibiotics.

Misuse of antibiotics puts us all at risk. I urge everyone to think twice and seek advice from a qualified health professional before taking antibiotics.