Public Health Watch: Professionals, Societies Urge Congress to Up Ante on Resistance

April 8, 2021
Brian P. Dunleavy

Brian P. Dunleavy has been covering health and medical research for more than 25 years, for United Press International and EverydayHealth.com, among other outlets. He is also the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition. In addition, he has written on other subjects for Biography.com, History.com, the Village Voice and amNewYork, among others. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Letters to legislators call for increased funding to address ongoing crisis.

Federal officials may be occupied with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as case totals have started to rise again nationally, even with multiple vaccines becoming increasingly available.

However, infectious disease specialists and others want to ensure proper attention is paid to another, ongoing, public health challenge: antimicrobial resistance. Earlier this month a coalition of professional societies and institutions representing physicians, scientists, patients, public health professionals, and animal agriculture experts as well as members of the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries sent letters to both houses of Congress, asking legislators to significantly increase US investments in the fight against resistant infections.

And a key weapon in that fight, they say, is fostering R&D efforts to build an arsenal of new infection-fighting drugs.

“Antibiotic resistance is an immense crisis that threatens our healthcare system as we know it,” David S. Weiss, PhD, an associate professor of infectious diseases and director of the Emory (University) Antibiotic Resistance Center in Atlanta, one of the letters’ signatories, told Contagion. “So many breakthroughs of modern medicine depend on antibiotics such as transplants, cancer chemotherapy, and survival of extremely premature infants. Without these life-saving drugs medicine would be set back decades. It is critical to continue to raise awareness about AMR and to support initiatives to combat this scourge.”

In general, the letters advocate a “One Health” approach to antibiotic resistance. However, specifically, they call on Congress to:

  • Provide $672 million in funding for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Antibiotic Resistance Solutions Initiative;
  • Include $465.4 million for the CDC’s Division of Global Health Protection to enhance infectious disease surveillance systems;
  • Budget at least $300 million for the Broad-Spectrum Antimicrobials and CARB-X programs at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA);
  • Allocate $6.52 billion to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), including $600 million specifically for resistance research;
  • Devote $975 million to the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) global health security efforts to strengthen its capacity to invest in health systems in low-income countries to combat the spread of resistant pathogens;
  • Provide $1 billion in funding for USAID’s Tuberculosis Program; and,
  • Provide $1.56 billion in funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

If these and other recommendations in the letters would also help lift the country out of the COVID-19 crisis, that’s hardly an accident. Improved surveillance, testing, and genomic sequencing of resistant pathogens can certainly coexist with similar efforts in emerging infectious diseases.

Still, just how much attention this issue will receive on Capitol Hill remains to be seen (Contagion reached out to two of the recipients and received no reply). However, Dr. Weiss said he and his colleagues believe that the ongoing pandemic will only serve to highlight the importance of significant action.

“COVID-19 has raised tremendous awareness about public health and in the big picture I believe will increase awareness of, and attention to, antimicrobial resistance as well,” Weiss said. “There are direct links, as COVID-19 patients with secondary bacterial infections have a greatly increased mortality rate. But far beyond COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance is a different type of pandemic—a more chronic one—that we will be dealing with for years to come.”