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Averting a public health disaster

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when micro-organisms are exposed to antimicrobial drugs and adapt, survive and spread. It’s a potential healthcare disaster.

Project Fleming Fund management agent, global

ClientUK Department of Health and Social Care

ExpertiseFund management and international health

If left unchecked, drug-resistant microbes could kill up to 10 million a year by 2050. Tackling the main cause – unregulated and overuse of antimicrobials in healthcare and in commercial farming – relies on greater public awareness, better use of drugs and improved public health surveillance. Data is important to identify patterns and trends in resistance, and to understand how antibiotic drugs are used, but many countries lack the systems to properly collect it. That’s why the UK-funded Fleming Fund is focused on strengthening AMR surveillance systems in low- and middle-income countries, where the threat to health is biggest and the systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data is often absent.

We’re working with UK Department of Health and Social Care to build surveillance capacity, improve laboratories and diagnosis, and upskill technicians, clinicians, epidemiologists and veterinarians, and influence policy change in 24 countries. Better and more comprehensive data will assist health professionals to make better informed treatment decisions, helping to save lives.

AMR poses an enormous economic threat. Without containment, the annual cost to the global economy by 2050 through lost production is forecast to be US$10tr. Economic damage will be greatest in poorer countries. An effective global response will prevent AMR halting economic growth in low-income countries and pushing millions of people into poverty.

Drug resistant micro-organisms could develop in the food chain and moving from animals and contaminated crops to people, while annual global livestock production could decline by up to 7.5%. Better data and guidance on the use of antimicrobials in agriculture and animal husbandry is crucial to reducing unnecessary use and preserving their effectiveness.

Antibiotics revolutionised medicine and healthcare and have saved millions of lives since Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. The three-pronged approach of the Fleming Fund – improving awareness and global data use, developing global frameworks and our work strengthening national surveillance systems – is designed to ensure antibiotics continue to be effective.

Deaths from drug-resistant infections by 2050 will disproportionately affect the poorest as common infections will become more difficult and expensive to treat. Having accurate information will help ensure resources are deployed at the right time, in the right place, to have the maximum impact, and that everyone, everywhere will continue to benefit from effective treatment.

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