World Leaders Tackle Antimicrobial Resistance at UN General Assembly Meeting

On September 21, 2016, delegates at the 71st meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly gathered to discuss the shared danger of antimicrobial resistance, signaling the global scale of this urgent public health crisis while pledging to collectively tackle the problem of superbugs.

On September 21, 2016 delegates at the 71st meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly gathered to discuss the shared danger of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), signaling the global scale of this urgent public health crisis while pledging to collectively tackle the problem of superbugs.

In only the fourth General Assembly meeting focused on the topic of AMR, attendees passed a declaration marking an historic accord on an issue facing individuals around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these hard-to-treat infections can infect anyone of any age in any country. Each year, drug-resistant infections kill 700,000 people worldwide, including 200,000 newborns. The problem of antibiotic resistance is no less looming in developed countries than in low-income countries, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that each year at least 2 million people in the United States contract drug-resistant bacterial infections and 23,000 of these individuals die as a direct result of the infection.

Speaking at the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to all in attendance that antimicrobial resistance poses “a fundamental, long-term threat to human health, sustainable food production and development.”

“If we fail to address this problem quickly and comprehensively, antimicrobial resistance will make providing high quality universal health coverage more difficult, if not impossible,” said the Secretary-General.

The scale and scope of the problem belies how tiny the targets are—virulent and drug-resistant strains of microscopic bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, Enterobacteriaceae, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus, as well as viral pathogens and parasites. Human development and frequent use of antimicrobial drugs have helped speed up the process by which microbes build resistance and become stronger. Previously easily treatable infections now vex hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world, creating life-threatening infections that are causing hospitalization rates, healthcare costs, and deaths to continue to rise.

Delegates at the meeting acknowledged that the inappropriate use and over-prescription of antimicrobial drugs greatly contribute to the problem of AMR. The declaration drafted at the meeting emphasizes that drug resistance threatens decades of steady progress in public health around the world, especially in the reduction of illnesses and deaths caused by infectious diseases. The world leaders attending the meeting recalled commitments to fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, Ebola, and other epidemics particularly facing developing countries. Such outbreaks are made that much more challenging to treat and control in the face of drug resistance, and can thwart sustainable development goals.

The threat of AMR could have dire consequences, agreed meeting delegates, and without global cooperation we could see devastating social, economic, and public health impacts.

Using WHO’s Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance as their blueprint for tackling these pathogens, the UN General Assembly set down some important new commitments at their recent meeting on AMR. WHO plan zeroes in on five strategic objectives: improving awareness and on AMR through communication, education and training; strengthening knowledge and evidence through surveillance and research; reducing the incidence of infection with effective sanitation, hygiene, and prevention; optimizing the use of antimicrobial medicine in humans and animals; and developing an economic case and increasing investment in new medicines, vaccines, and diagnostic tools.

While the declaration did not set specific target numbers for increasing spending or reducing antibiotic use and infection rates, adopting this plan cements a worldwide commitment to tackling a shared threat with a sense of urgency. With coordination assistance from the WHO, it is now on individual nations to implement their plans for taking on AMR.