Antimicrobial resistance is a threat to global public health

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microorganism to stop an antimicrobial drug from working against it. The most commonly known antimicrobials are antibiotics, which kill or stop the growth of bacteria.

AMR represents a serious and growing threat to human and animal health worldwide. A number of infections, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea, are becoming increasingly difficult to treat owing to the widespread emergence of an array of antibiotic resistance mechanisms.

Without effective antibiotics for the prevention and treatment of infections, modern medical procedures such as general surgery, organ transplantation and cancer chemotherapy could become high risk procedures.

Responses to antibiotic resistance

Global awareness of the severity of the problem is urgently needed, and important actors, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) have already set up large campaigns in order to raise public awareness. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) has invested heavily in combating AMR, and the AMR Accelerator Programme complements and builds on the achievements of IMI’s New Drugs for Bad Bugs Programme, which also focuses on AMR.

Causes of antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a natural occurrence that can be caused by mutations in bacterial genes or by bacteria acquiring ‘resistance genes’ from other organisms. However, the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics. One example is when antibiotics are used for the wrong purpose: most colds and flu are caused by viruses against which antibiotics are not effective, yet antibiotics are frequently prescribed. Another example is when antibiotics are used incorrectly: failure to complete a course of treatment can result in too little drug in the body allowing some bacteria to survive which then may become resistant. These resistant bacteria may spread and cause infections in other people who have not taken any antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found in people, animals, food and in the environment all over the world. Poor hygiene, inadequate systems for infection prevention and control, global trade and travel, lack of surveillance of drug resistance, and inadequate diagnostics all contribute to the growing problem of increasingly widespread multi-resistant bacteria.