Beginning March, the The Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Antimicrobial resistance (STAG-AMR) had its first meeting. The group is the principal advisory group to the World Health Organization (WHO) on antimicrobial resistance. Both Otridah Kapona, AMR Focal Point for Zambia and Projects Officer at ReAct Africa and Sujith J Chandy, Director of ReAct Asia Pacific, were appointed to the group. We have asked the two new STAG-AMR members a few questions about the newly formed advisory group and their hopes for the future. ReAct would like to express its congratulations for their new appointment.
1. Why is the STAG-AMR group important in addressing antimicrobial resistance?
– Being the guardian in terms of providing strategic guidance based on evidence, added value and vision on addressing global health issues related to antimicrobial resistance in the context of human health, the STAG’s multi representation from different countries and professions brings different perspectives and approaches. These should transform and shift our thinking and dynamics towards value added solutions so that recommendations provided by this core group of experts to WHO are based on ground realities.
– In my opinion, the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for AMR is a crucial body in the movement to contain antibiotic resistance. The STAG will be important in advocating the five pillars of the Global Action Plan to policy makers and key stakeholders; advising the WHO AMR division, regions and country offices in implementation issues of the plan; facilitating awareness and behavioral change to the community with the help of civil society groups, media and other stakeholders in respective sectors; and ensuring that research on antibiotic resistance, monitoring of antibiotic use, and evaluation of interventions and programs continue to shape the direction of the AMR movement.
More about STAG-AMR
- The STAG-AMR has the mandate to provide advice to the WHO Director-General and the newly established AMR Division on overall global policies and strategies to address AMR within the context of human health, while considering relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions and decisions.
- The STAG-AMR is part of the WHO Director-General’s Transformation Agenda.
- The priorities of the new WHO AMR Division have been re-defined based on the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Coordination Group on AMR’s (IACG) report to the United Nations Secretary-General in April 2019, and feedback from member states through their adoption of the WHA AMR Resolution (WHA72.5) in May 2019. Therefore, the Director-General called for the dissolution of the existing STAG-AMR, and re-establishment of a new STAG-AMR based on revised Terms of Reference.
- The new STAG-AMR will provide guidance based on these new priorities.
2. What are the major future challenges for the STAG-AMR group?
– One of the primary future challenges is ensuring properly balanced representation on the STAG between high and low-income countries. It is critically important that there is a strong diversity in terms of thinking and approaches towards policy and recommended interventions. An imbalance in representation and world view would potentially result in having recommended interventions that do not fit or reflect the reality of some regions of the world. Health systems and anthropological settings are different from one region to the other. Hence a balance in terms of worldview and representation ensures a wide pool of strong value recommendations that can be adapted for the different regions (low-income countries versus medium-income countries).
– Another challenge would be having members and the committee do due diligence before recommendations are made as once these are adopted and go out, they become WHO recommendations.
– I think the challenge at this stage is to ensure that antibiotic resistance continues to get the space and focus that it deserves as the world deals in desperation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Another major challenge is advocating and ensuring optimal funding for national action plans. Without adequate financing, it will be very difficult to ensure continued enthusiasm among stakeholders, and sustainability of implementation efforts on the ground. The third major challenge would be the race against time to keep up with the resistance rates across the world and ensure that our innovations, research and development efforts, and implementation of interventional strategies match the rising tide of antibiotic resistance and decreasing effectiveness of our current antibiotics.
3. What are your major expectations and hopes for the STAG group?
– Well, I have quite a number of expectations.
– The STAG has a responsibility to make recommendations that are realistic and applicable in all WHO member countries. My expectations are therefore that the STAG will identify the differences in the broader groupings and propose context specific, sustainable and cost-effective solutions to most challenges.
– I hope to see the STAG transcending the typical vision of what it is meant to be and try to be disruptive and innovative by identifying ways to ensure that its recommendations go far beyond mere policy or shelf documents but lead to transformative actions on the ground as well as ensuring the broader society is part of the AMR discussion.
– I also hope that the STAG recommendations will not only be taken up by WHO’s AMR secretariat but should also feed into the global leadership group that has been mandated through the IACG recommendations and the UN to focus on issues with global implications.
– Additionally, I hope for a culture of freedom of speech (respectfully) and where no one member has a stronger voice than the other. Lastly, I expect that there will be effective engagement and constant communication between the STAG and WHO AMR secretariat with regular feedback on the status of recommendations (whether accepted, adopted or rejected with possible reasons).
– May I conclude by saying, I am honored and excited to have an opportunity to serve in this advisory role and add to the LMIC’s voice. I believe I am here representing not only my country of origin but all LMICs facing the challenges my country is facing in addressing the global threat of AMR, this silent pandemic that threatens our very existence. I look forward to contributing to shaping global policies and strategies in our response to threat of AMR.
– My expectations for the STAG is that we move forward with implementing the various facets of the global action plan and national action plans on an urgent war footing. We need to keep our eyes and ears open, looking at new pieces of research evidence, understanding the perceptions of the community and stakeholders on the ground, and ensuring that our discussions on interventions take into consideration issues of feasibility, sustainability, affordability and accountability. It is my hope that the STAG will continue to be instrumental in helping the world contain antibiotic resistance.
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