News and Opinions  –  2021

5 lessons learned from Latin American Summit: Community empowerment – vital for tackling AMR

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The Latin American Meeting "Empowered Communities facing antimicrobial resistance in the context of COVID-19", organized by ReAct Latin America, the Pan American Health Organization and Florida International University, was held from 10 to 12 November. This Meeting analyzed the role of the community and its diverse forms of organization and wisdom in facing the pandemic. And how those actions can be taken as examples for addressing antimicrobial resistance, in particular antibiotics. Here are a few lessons learned from the meeting days, we also look into future approaches that might be of interest.

1. Other health issues pushed back

The COVID-19 pandemic caused health systems to push other health issues, such as infection control and the problem of antibiotic resistance, to the back burner. In more than half of the countries in the Latin American region, primary health care services were disrupted.

2. Use of antibiotics increased in the region

The use of antibiotics in human medicine increased during COVID-19 in the region. Both in hospital and outpatient settings – a large proportion of these drugs were prescribed unnecessarily in mild patients. On the other hand, the infodemic, lack of credibility in health systems and lack of access to health services led to self-medication by part of the population, generating a high demand for antibiotics.

3. The empowered community

The organized and empowered community was activated, from their territories, with their knowledge and wisdom – to confront COVID-19. This included care of mildly ill people by healers, the dissemination of health care practices and the good use of medicines, the care of the population in their territories and guaranteeing access to food. However, many of these strategies were invisible or minimized by health systems.

4. Food production and consumption

COVID-19 rethought the model of food production and consumption – and the relationship between humans – ecosystems – and microbes. The use of antibiotics in production systems has caused damage to ecosystems, both in terms of contamination with these drugs and multi-resistant bacteria, as well as the deforestation and invasion of natural habitats to make way for large farms and monocultures. In this rethinking of agri-food systems, communities have played an important role in implementing and promoting healthy food production and consumption systems for humans and the planet.

5. Health education weakened in the region

Health education and promotion have been absent or weakened in health systems in the region. Health budgets have focused their priority on medical care, infrastructure and technology, leaving aside the education of the population for prevention and health care.

Looking into the future

After the enriching dialogues and presentations, conclusions – the Meeting focus on several agreements that promote community participation and empowerment. This to overcome health problems in the territories and the containment of antibiotic resistance.

  1. Recognize antibiotic resistance as a pandemic that is growing silently and has health, economic, social and environmental implications.
  2. That it is necessary to multiply the initiatives and knowledge of communities to confront COVID-19, and that they can set an example to confront antimicrobial resistance.
  3. It is urgent to promote the dialogue of knowledge between the community, civil society organizations, academia, artistic collectives, state bodies and international organizations because we need each other to confront a problem as large and complex as antimicrobial resistance.
  4. Agri-food systems, under the One Health approach, must produce and promote consumption of food free from non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, biodiverse and healthy for humans and the planet.
  5. Promote the incorporation of Local (community) Action Plans. This with participation of all citizens, encouraging inter-sectoral work, which strengthens public, universal and accessible health systems.
  6. Incorporate health promotion as the most effective strategy to improve antibiotic use at the population and health worker level.
  7. Educational and communication programs that integrate the One Health approach and promote the participation of citizens, children, the university community, primary health care personnel, the media and agricultural producers.

Finally, the Meeting culminated with a Declaration.

This year ReAct is celebrating 15 years of action on antibiotic resistance and this summit is part of the celebration!

The story of ReAct started 15 years ago with a small group of people, many who are still with the network today. They all shared a passion for global health, and felt the urgency to address the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The network has since grown, with the presence of offices in 5 continents and many passionate members working together.
Read more about ReAct 15 years celebrations and learn more about the story of ReAct!

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