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World Antimicrobial Awareness Week starts today

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World Antimicrobial Awareness Week begins today and will run until November 24.

The Ministry of Health and Ministry for Primary Industries are supporting the ‘One Health’ approach to spread awareness during this time. The theme for this year is ‘Spread Awareness, Stop Resistance’.

Antimicrobials are medicines such as antibiotics which are used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to the medicines used to treat them. This makes infections harder to treat and increases the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death.

“A key thing to remember is that an individual person won’t develop resistance to antibiotics. The resistance develops in the bugs themselves, so over time we need to reduce the overall use of antibiotics in the wider community because this is a main driver of resistance,” says the Ministry of Health’s Chief Science Advisor Dr Ian Town.

“Doctors, nurses and other prescribers in Aotearoa New Zealand are very well aware of the need to use antibiotics wisely. People are encouraged to have a discussion with their health professional about why antibiotics are used and whether your current situation really requires an antibiotic.

“Covid-19 has made us all very aware of the need to look after ourselves, to keep washing our hands and to stay at home if you’re not well. These actions also help reduce the spread of resistant bugs.

“Other actions we can all take to help stop the spread of AMR include getting vaccinated to prevent infections, only taking antibiotics if they are prescribed for you and trust your health professional if they advise that you don’t need antibiotics. Antibiotics only work against bacteria; they do not work for viral infections like a cold, Covid-19  or the flu,” says Town.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) works alongside the Ministry of Health to promote antimicrobial resistance awareness by working with manufacturers, vets, farm industry organisations and horticulture sectors. Veterinarians play an important role by being responsible for the authorisation of antibiotics used on animals.

“We’re proud in New Zealand to have one of the most stringent regulatory systems for antimicrobials and one of the lowest uses of antimicrobials in production animals, but we can’t do this alone—we need the world to act together,” says MPI’s Chief Science Advisor Dr John Roche

The Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Professor Dame Juliet Gerrard’s major project for 2021 is on infectious disease, with a particular focus on drug-resistant infections (antimicrobial resistance).

“The threat of drug-resistant infections isn’t just a problem in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is a global problem and has been highlighted as one of the top ten threats by the World Health Organization,” says Gerrard.

“We’ve put together a fantastic expert panel which includes all sorts of different scientists, researchers and clinicians from all around New Zealand and we’re pulling together some recommendations to make sure we use antibiotics and other medicines wisely and make sure that they keep working into the future.”

The panel is expected to provide its advice to the Government in the coming weeks.

Alongside international activity this World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, a range of New Zealand scientists, healthcare professionals and organisations are helping spread awareness about the threat of antimicrobial resistance.

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