The fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has to take a wider, more social approach, said Professor Keiji Fukuda, Director of School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. He was speaking at the Public Health Thought Leadership Dialogue organised by the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health (SSHSPH) on 1 November. Themed “Antimicrobial Resistance: from Knowledge to Action”, the dialogue discussed the current status of AMR, the problems at hand and the key areas to work on.
Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport, Dr Lam Pin Min, graced the event as the Guest-of-Honour, and announced the Singapore National Plan to combat AMR. This plan will see the One Health agencies — the Agri-Food and Veterinary Agency, Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency and PUB, the National Water Agency — coming together as a workgroup to develop strategies against AMR.
The use of antimicrobial drugs have led to great leaps in combating infectious diseases. However, overuse and abuse of these drugs, like antibiotics and antivirals, have accelerated microorganisms’ ability to develop resistance to them, rendering the drugs ineffective.
The key areas that the National Plan will focus on are education, surveillance, research, infection prevention and optimal antimicrobial use.
“Preventing AMR is possible with the collective and conscious effort of everyone. Individuals need to be equipped with an understanding of AMR and the tools to address it, to play a part in addressing the problem,” Dr Lam said in his speech. Part of the strategy would be to raise public awareness, including engaging with school-going children.
Prof Fukuda contrasted the advances of modern medicine and the looming health risk posed by AMR. “We are able to do surgery better than we could ever do it, we have people with immuno-compromising conditions who are able to live much longer than they have in the past. These are big groups of people who are at risk of infection. If we begin to lose that ability to protect these people, we will really begin to see the erosion of what we think of as modern medicine,” he warned.
Prof Fukuda stressed that the fight against AMR cannot be confined to the scientific or medicinal spheres. He pointed out areas to be addressed immediately. These include an increase in policy-driven research, multisector ownership and cooperation in addressing the issue, building awareness in food consumers, sustainable agriculture and veterinary practices in the use of antimicrobial drugs, development of public-private business models to move ahead, as well as a transitioning of the perspective on microbial drugs from a commercial product to a global good.
Prof Fukuda also believes that it is important to build a social interest towards AMR to form the drivers for any plans and strategies put in place. “The real goal is to get the whole society engaged in the discussion,” he said.
A panel discussion followed Prof Fukuda’s talk, moderated by SSHSPH Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, who is also the Head of the Antimicrobial Resistance Programme in the School. The other panellists were Associate Professor Vernon Lee, Director of the Communicable Diseases Division at MOH, Professor Patricia Conway from the University of New South Wales and Visiting Professor at the Nanyang Technological University, and SSHSPH Associate Professor Helena Legido-Quigley.
The panellists discussed a range of topics associated with battling AMR. These included the probability of using other compounds for prevention and treatment of diseases, the feasibility of reducing use of antibiotics in farming, the current status of rapid diagnostics development to differentiate infectious disease and thus strength of antimicrobial drugs needed, changing public behaviour towards antimicrobial drugs, and ways to regulate the profit-driven distribution of the drugs.
Some 270 guests attended the dialogue. The Public Health Thought Leadership Dialogue is SSHSPH’s signature event, which facilitates candid, meaningful discussions with prominent public health thought leaders on health issues that impact both local and regional populations.