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In May I was delighted to welcome colleagues from a wide range of different backgrounds to the BMA, for a symposium to discuss the urgent threat of antimicrobial resistance, and the actions required to safeguard the effectiveness of these drugs – on which much of modern medicine depends. What was clear from all participants was the scale of the challenge, and the vital importance of coordinated action across different sectors, including medicine, veterinary practice, agriculture and the environment.
One reason I was so keen for the BMA to host this meeting, was because the Government will shortly be publishing a new five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy. It is clear to me that an effective strategy must take a ‘one health’ approach and commit to tackling the drivers of antimicrobial resistance across these different settings. While as doctors we are acutely aware of the need to reduce inappropriate prescribing in medical practice, this is not a problem confined to human health. There continues, for example, to be significant concern about the use of antimicrobials in modern agriculture, where huge quantities of these drugs are used in the rearing of livestock each year. This has prompted the BMA and others to call for greater controls on the use of antimicrobials in animals – including restrictions on the routine administration of antimicrobials to healthy animals, as well as the use, in agriculture, of those antimicrobials that are critically important for human medicine.
Without effective action it has been estimated that 10 million lives a year will be lost to drug-resistant infections. Yet, worryingly, in their recent report, the Health and Social Care Committee highlighted the lack of priority and political leadership in this area. This is of real concern. Antimicrobial resistance threatens the future viability of modern medicine - a threat of this scale requires an effective, coordinated response from Government. Tackling antimicrobial resistance should be at the top of their agenda. It must also be at the top of the international agenda - antimicrobial resistance does not respect international borders, and the UK should be at the forefront of pushing for an effective global response, that includes international agreements to facilitate the prudent use of antimicrobials.
While, as professionals, we must all play our part in tackling the serious threat of antimicrobial resistance, rising to the challenge requires effective national and international leadership.
For more information on antimicrobial resistance and BMA policy see here
Professor Dame Parveen Kumar is chair of the BMA Board of Science