Combating drug resistance

The World Health Organization is urging an increased global commitment to combat drug resistance.

It is asking medical professionals and governments to implement policies and practices to prevent and counter the emergence of highly resistant microorganism.

Antimicrobial resistance, the theme of this year’s World Health Day today (Thursday, 7 April), endangers the effectiveness of medicines, particularly antibiotics, and threatens doctors’ ability to treat infectious diseases.

Supporting this call to action, Cayman’s Minister of Health Mark Scotland said in his World Health Day message: “Although this is indeed a highly sophisticated medical issue, the good news is that everyone can improve the longevity of antibiotics.”

He urged people to explore alternative treatments, instead of reaching for antibiotics to treat simple colds and other virus infections.

He also reinforced his message by emphasising the importance of making healthy choices and explaining the connection between lifestyle and drug resistance: “A combination of exercising and eating healthily is indeed the best prescription for building up your immune system. A strong one means fewer illnesses, which in turn reduces the need for antibiotics.”  

Data collected

For its part in the “war” against drug resistance, the laboratory of the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority has been collecting data on antibiotic resistance trends and preparing reports since 1997.

This information is distributed to the hospital’s Infection Control Department, the Public Health Department, all physicians, the chief pharmacist and the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, where it is included in regional surveys monitoring antibiotic trends.

“Monitoring data in this way allows for informed decision-making, aiding doctors in selecting the most appropriate medicines for patients. It also sets the stage for educational and technical-support interventions in instances where guidelines need to be reviewed or revised,” said Health Services Authority GP Coordinator Dr. Anna Matthews.

How resistance occurs

Antimicrobial resistance – or drug resistance – occurs when bacteria, viruses or parasites evolve to withstand attacks by antimicrobial medicines (antibiotics, antivirals, and antimalarials) to which they were previously sensitive.

This means that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist and may even spread.

Drug resistance is a concern globally because it kills. When infections caused by resistant microorganisms become resistant to standard treatment, it results in prolonged illness and puts patients at greater risk of death.

It also threatens a return to the pre-antibiotic era. Many infectious diseases risk becoming uncontrollable and could derail the progress made toward reaching the targets of the health-related United Nations Millennium Development Goals set for 2015.

Antimicrobial resistance also increases the costs of healthcare.

When infections become resistant to first-line medicines, more expensive therapies become necessary.

The longer duration of illness and treatment, often in hospitals, increases healthcare costs as well as the financial burden to families and communities.

Drug resistance is a consequence of the misuse and excessive, but often unnecessary, prescribing of antimicrobial medicines.

For example, when patients do not take the full course of a prescribed antimicrobial or when poor-quality antimicrobials are used, resistant micro-organisms can emerge and spread.