H.E. Fatouma Seid, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative in Ethiopia

Antimicrobial agents are used in treating bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections. They also essential in people at higher risk of diseases, such as those undergoing cancer treatment or having surgery, dialysis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

However, the emergence, re-emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – the ability of microorganisms to persist, grow, or multiply in the presence of antimicrobials designed to inhibit or kill them is complicating the management of many infectious diseases in humans and animals. It is also a risk to the environment and the economy. 

Antimicrobial Resistance is rapidly becoming one of the greatest threats to lives, livelihoods, and economiesand has implications for food safety, food security, and the economic wellbeing of millions of farming households. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that AMR is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity. The Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance study shows that drug-resistant bacterial infections contributed to almost five million human deaths in 2019, making AMR a leading cause of death globally. In the agriculture sector, AMR causes production losses, damages livelihoods, and jeopardizes food security and safety.

Although AMR may occur naturally over time, usually through mutations or genetic changes, antimicrobial misuse and overuse are main drivers of the threat. For example, due to the over-the-counter sales of antimicrobials, people are using them without proper diagnosis and prescription and not following the recommendations provided.  Weak infection prevention, lack of biosecurity and good husbandry practices, regulation and oversight on the manufacture, importation, use, safe disposal of antimicrobials compound the problem. In the agriculture sector, antimicrobials are being overused for non-therapeutic purposes such as to promote growth and wide spread prophylaxis and metaphylaxsis in healthy animals, aquaculture, and crops. The presence of antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms and antimicrobials in our farming systems means they could be in the food we eat.

Unfortunately, the discovery of new antimicrobials has slowed down. We are potentially going to face a situation in which the antimicrobials we have will not work against many infections.

We, therefore, have to take collective action in fighting AMR and keeping the available antimicrobials working for as long as possible as we buy time for new discoveries. The multi-sectoral nature of AMR also requires using the “One Health” a collaborative, multi-sectoral, and trans-disciplinary approach that recognizes the interconnections between people, animals, plants, food, and their shared environment.

In response to the growing AMR in Ethiopia, the Government has embarked on the prevention and containment of AMR within the framework of the third five-year AMR Prevention and Containment Strategic Plan . The containment strategy leverages on multi-partner collaboration and coordination mechanisms using the One Health approach. 

However, we cannot leave the fight against AMR to the Government and development partners alone. At a personal level, you can stop misusing antimicrobials by seeking proper diagnosis and advice from health workers and taking the medication as prescribed. Infection prevention, hygienic environment, biosecurity, good farming practices, and vaccination come early in the containment of AMR. Health workers should promote the rational use of medicine and only prescribe antimicrobials after proper diagnosis and when the infection is confirmed. If antimicrobials are prescribed after diagnosis, they should also educate patients and animal owners/handlers about how to take/administer antimicrobials and the dangers of misuse. Farms should maintain hygiene to prevent infections and ensure that animals are vaccinated and sick ones isolated to prevent the spread of infections. Civil society including academic institutions and the media can contribute knowledge and create awareness about AMR. Governments should invest in surveillance mechanisms and set up appropriate policies, legislation, and institutions to facilitate the containment of AMR.

FAO’s role in AMR containment

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Ethiopia plays a crucial role in supporting and collaborating in the strengthening of health systems of the federal, regional government institutions, the private sector and civil society, farmers, producers, traders, and other stakeholders to move towards the responsible use of antimicrobials thus helping slow down  AMR in the agricultural and environmental systems. The Organization continues to support efforts to strengthen the capacities of the animal health sector to prevent, detect, and respond to emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases and AMR.

FAO is working closely with key partners such as the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), WHO, and others in a global response to the threats of AMR. These three organizations share the responsibilities for coordinating global activities and tackling AMR through a “One Health” approach.

By Ms. Fatouma Seid, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative in Ethiopia