This blog post was originally published on the Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics blog – view more at:

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global public health concern. In 2014, an estimated 700,000 deaths were attributed to AMR globally and it is predicted that by 2050 this number could reach 10 million.[1] Antibiotics have been the cornerstone of many medical interventions, for example surgical interventions, transplants and the treatment of common bacterial infections, for decades. Without effective antibiotics, many medical practices that we now consider to be routine will be jeopardised.

Although there is much global attention to AMR, there is a need to better understand the burden, distribution and determinants of AMR at the population level. Antimicrobial use, appropriate or inappropriate, is a driver of AMR yet there is a lack of specific advice as to which interventions are likely to have the greatest impact on reducing the emergence and spread of AMR in both hospital and community settings.

In our paper “Antimicrobial resistance in human populations: challenges and opportunities”, we argue for the integration of a range of epidemiological approaches, which could help to improve our understanding of the population level factors that may influence the development and spread of AMR. This is important for informing interventions to reducing excess use of antimicrobials, whilst also ensuring that those in need of these treatments have access to them.

One such approach is to use routine clinical data and electronic health records (EHRs) in combination with pathogen surveillance, using techniques such as whole-genome sequencing. This could help to improve our understanding of drug resistance, how it emerges and how it spreads. EHRs could also provide an insight into prescribing practices in general practices and hospitals, and how this could be related to the emergence of drug-resistant infections. Using prospective (or longitudinal) study designs, researchers could explore the real-time development of resistant strains in a given population as well as the factors that may drive resistance.

Other preventative strategies to reduce the burden of AMR include basic hygiene and sanitation practices, waste management and safe food preparation. However, in some low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), conducting these basic practices can be challenging due to human resource constrains and weaker civil and health infrastructures. Furthermore, it is often the case in these countries that more people suffer due to a lack of access to drugs than drug resistance itself.

The suggested research initiatives may help to better understand the burden, distribution and determinants of AMR. These approaches should be combined with improved preventative measures, including vaccinations and good hygiene and sanitation practices to reduce the need for therapy in the first instance, and strategies to reduce excess use of antimicrobials to slow the development of resistance. Furthermore, although AMR is a global problem, we need to consider that the issue differs by county and setting, therefore so must the approach taken to tackle AMR.

1. O’Niell J., Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally: Final Report and Recommendations, in The review on antimicrobial resistance. 2016, HM Government and the Wellcome Trust: London.

The paper “Antimicrobial resistance in human populations: challenges and opportunities” by S. Allcock, E. H. Young, M. Holmes, D. Gurdasani, G. Dougan, M. S. Sandhu, L. Solomon and M. E. Török has been published Open Access in Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics and is available here.

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