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What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and why is it an urgent threat to global health?

AMR is the ability of microbes (such as bacteria, viruses, fungi) to counteract the effectiveness of antimicrobial drugs used against them. There are three main classes of antimicrobial drugs: antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals. Even when used appropriately, antimicrobials can create a selective pressure for resistant microorganisms. However, the development of resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in human, animal, and plant health along with the pollution of the environment with antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance genes.

AMR is a serious and urgent threat to global health as antimicrobials have been one of the key pillars of modern medicine since the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928. Although antivirals and antifungals are indeed susceptible to resistance, antibiotics are of particular concern due to the rapid ways that bacteria can develop resistance mechanisms and transfer them through the population. This website places a heavy emphasis on antibiotic resistance due to the fact that when we talk about infections becoming resistant, this very often means bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Additionally, of the three classes, antibiotics are used and misused at the highest rates which strongly contributes to the development of resistance in bacteria.

Human medicine is only the tip of the iceberg in the development of AMR; antibiotic use in animal husbandry accounts for 73% of all use globally. Any of us could be the next victim of AMR. According to United Nations experts, in the next 30 years 2.4 million people in Europe, North America, and Australia could die from drug-resistant infections (WHO, 2019). As life-saving antibiotics stop being effective, AMR could end our capacity to combat infections and halt all surgical procedures. This makes AMR a global health threat that needs international coordination and legislation to be addressed.