Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

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Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

Antibiotics have been integral to living longer and healthier lives and have revolutionised how we treat diseases in both humans and animals. But the effectiveness of antibiotics is being undermined by misuse. The rise of antimicrobial resistance will be a central challenge of the 21st century. In fact the World Health Organisation has said antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest global health challenges we face.

Our goal: By 2030 New Zealand Inc. will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness.

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How do we reduce our dependency on these critical medicines and preserve their use for as long as possible?

Finding alternatives, lateral thinking and collaboration - these will be key to finding solutions to antibiotic resistance.

The veterinary profession's aspirational goal 'By 2030 New Zealand Inc. will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness" was launched in July 2015. We are leading the way, and working collaboratively with a range of organisations, to promote the responsible use of antibiotics in animals to ensure their continued effectiveness in safeguarding both animal and human health.

We've received strong support for our vision and are now exploring strategies to address antibiotic resistance - which could be an innovation opportunity for New Zealand. A 2015 PwC report found that as one of the three lowest users of antibiotics to treat animals in the OECD, New Zealand could increase the value of its exports with reduced-antibiotic livestock systems and scientific innovations.

What is the problem?

The evidence is clear: The more we use antimicrobials the more we increase antimicrobial resistance.

Antibiotics and resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of micro-organisms (these include bacteria, viruses and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial drug (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result, standard medical treatments have become ineffective, infections persist, and they may spread to others. The most critical issue is in the resistance of highly infectious strains of bacteria to antibiotics. Health care professionals are left with limited or, in some instances, no available treatment options. This is compounded by no new antibiotics being discovered in the last 30 years.

Over the past 60 years science and technology has allowed for dramatic increases in food production from animals to meet the demands of consumers. This has included the use of antibiotics to treat and prevent disease alongside improvements in genetics, housing, nutrition, biosecurity, husbandry, veterinary medicine, farm business management and economies of scale. The use of antimicrobials in these systems to ensure the health and wellbeing of animals and to ensure the safety of food entering the food chain. The emergence of increasing levels of antimicrobial resistance now challenges these accepted practices, and emphasises the need to find alternatives to protect the efficacy of these important medicines while continuing to ensure animal wellbeing and the safety of our food.

In a recent review of antimicrobial resistance in the UK (published in 2014)

  • An estimated 10 million extra deaths per year are predicted by 2050.
  • Major effect on surgeries which have become entirely routine in many parts of the world but are dependent upon the availability of effective antibiotics to make them comparatively low risk.
  • When combined with the other effects of antimicrobial resistance the world's economy could lose more than 7% of its GDP by 2050.
  • Much of the problem stems from misuse, using the wrong antibiotic, treating when no bacteria are involved, not completing the course of a treatment.

What are the solutions?

Through effective collaboration between the veterinary profession, human health organisations, Government, all relevant industries, the wider public and with international organisations we can reduce and avoid serious consequences related to antimicrobial resistance.

Very few public health issues are of greater importance than antimicrobial resistance in terms of their impact on society. Effective antibiotics have been a key factor in living longer and healthier. Without them we will lose global public health gains.

"With sharply increasing levels of resistance to antibiotics worldwide, we want animals and, by extension, humans to enter the 'post-antibiotic' era as safely as possible." New Zealand Veterinary Association's Steve Merchant

Addressing antimicrobial resistance is a community issue involving veterinarians, doctors, animal owners (production and companion), industry stakeholders and farmers. We all have to be aware that it is only through the careful use of antibiotics critical to human health that they will remain effective for treating infections. Therefore, prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials, whether for humans or animals, is essential.

How should we respond?

Responsibility: New Zealand veterinarians take control of the prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials for animals, and lead the way for use in humans.

Reduction: Immediate and progressive steps are taken to eliminate use of certain classes of antibiotic and remove as much other use as possible.

Refinement: Smarter ways to use antibiotics are developed by New Zealand science.

Replacement: New Zealand develops alternative means of managing health and wellbeing without antibiotics.

Review: Each step to 2030 is regularly reviewed, lessons are learned, and best new opportunities are seized.