Antibiotic resistance – the most significant global health issue of 21st century Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Source: The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, 21 September 2016 

New Zealand can no longer rely on its geographic isolation to prevent the impacts of increasing rates of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) globally, according to The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (the RACP).

As people travel nationally and internationally with greater frequency, visiting multiple countries and staying in countries for extended periods of time, drug-resistant strains of different pathogens will be introduced into New Zealand at an increasing rate.

AMR develops when infection-causing organisms survive exposure to medicines (such as antibiotics) that would eradicate or inhibit its growth, allowing it to spread.

The RACP argues the evidence for action is clear, with urgency required to prevent and reverse AMR trends in New Zealand.

"Increasing use and misuse of antimicrobials is out of control." Dr Jonathan Christiansen, the RACP New Zealand President, said.

"Infection controls, prescribing guidelines and research to develop new antimicrobials are required to treat a growing number of infections that are resistant to antibiotics."

Common infections are becoming resistant to all available medicines and there are delays in new antimicrobials being discovered. Three common pathogens of concern are showing increased resistance to antibiotics, posing a major risk to the health of New Zealanders: Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacteriaceae (including E. coli and K. pneumoniae), and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

With significant public health implications, particularly for disease control and treatment, increasing AMR has the potential to undermine the viability of interventions such as common surgical procedures, organ transplantation, chemotherapy and neonatal care. Antibiotics can no longer be considered the 'magic bullet'.

According to the World Health Organization, without urgent action many of the medical breakthroughs of the last century could be lost through the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Global leaders will meet at the United Nations General Assembly on 21 September to discuss the seriousness of the situation and agree comprehensive, multi sector approaches to fighting AMR together.

The RACP recommends New Zealand develops a comprehensive, financed national response to AMR. International best practice AMR programs include antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) building on evidence, policy, organisational support, multidisciplinary teams, and patient experience.

"A centrally driven, nationwide AMR programme is essential for New Zealand to achieve a collaborative, whole of sector response to the most significant global health issue of the 21st century." said Dr Christiansen.

"The Ministry of Health AMR Action Plan, due out in May 2017, is an important step forward in containing and controlling AMR in New Zealand."