News and Opinions  –  2023

New UNEP report – spotlight on environment and AMR

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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently released a new report on the environmental dimensions of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) highlighting how the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans, animals, and agriculture can contribute to the spread of drug-resistant infections. This, in turn, can cause severe consequences for public health, food security, and ecosystems.

United Nations Environment Programme (2023). Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance. Geneva

Anthony So, Director of the ReAct Strategic Policy Program and the IDEA (Innovation + Design Enabling Access) Initiative at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is one of five lead authors of the report “Bracing for Superbugs: Strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance”.

The report aims to demystify and unpack the different aspects of the environmental dimensions of antimicrobial resistance, offering a comprehensive overview of scientific findings on the subject.

Attention to antimicrobial resistance in the past has often focused on the human health and agricultural sectors, with less attention being paid to how environmental aspects such as climate change and pollution exacerbate antimicrobial resistance. Due to climate change, for example, higher temperatures may drive up the incidence of antimicrobial-resistant infections in various ways. This ranges from extreme weather patterns that can disrupt the environment to the spread of disease vectors across geographies, including those that are now more temperate.

Antibiotic pollution

As a result of antibiotic pollution, antibiotics from hospitals, communities, and food production can end up in municipal solid waste landfills and sewage — creating conditions where resistant bacteria might develop and spread. Water, soil and air all play a role as environmental media that can aid in the transmission and spread of both drug-resistant microorganisms and genes.

3 main economic sectors heavily contribute to AMR

The UNEP report identifies three main economic sectors that contribute heavily to development and spread of antimicrobial resistance:

  • pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • food production systems and
  • health care delivery

Recommendations in the report

While more research needs to be done on the links between the environment and antibiotic resistance, the UNEP report outlines actionable steps that we can take based on today’s evidence. Recommendations for strengthening environmental action and integrating these actions into national and global strategies include:

  • better regulation of antibiotics
  • improved wastewater treatment
  • enhanced surveillance of antibiotic residues and resistant bacteria in the environment
  • increased public awareness and education

Addressing antimicrobial resistance will require commitments across sectors.

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