Analysis

World Health Assembly Highlights International Progress on Combating Antimicrobial Resistance

U.S. leadership remains key in ensuring continued momentum

Antimicrobial resistance

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At the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA), held in Geneva from May 22 to 31, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) remained high on the agenda. Building on commitments from world leaders at last year’s United Nations General Assembly meeting, the WHA brought together stakeholders from around the world—including government officials, nongovernmental organizations, public health experts, and industry representatives—who continued important conversations related to the global fight against the growing threat of AMR.

Progress and next steps on combating antimicrobial resistance

This year’s WHA provided the World Health Organization with an opportunity to highlight progress that countries have made in combating AMR. In 2016, all 193 U.N. member countries agreed to a political declaration that, among other things, committed individual governments to develop national action plans to combat AMR. According to the WHO, 67 countries had completed development of plans as of April 2017, and 62 countries were in the process of doing so. Countries that have a national action plan or will soon have one are the largest and most populated in the world, home to over 6.5 billion people. Almost all of the plans take a One Health approach, which is a coordinated effort spanning human health, agriculture, and the environment. However, each country faces a distinct set of challenges in national action plan implementation, such as increasing understanding of AMR patterns or improving public health infrastructure in order to prevent the spread of AMR. In its report, the WHO acknowledged these difficulties and committed to providing support to member countries for implementation of their plans so that each country is capable of combating AMR.

The WHO also released results from a survey intended to monitor country-level progress and identify areas where additional support is needed. These results showed that, although a number of countries have made progress in key areas, continued expansion of AMR activities is needed to fully address this public health threat globally.

In addition to country-level progress, the WHO provided an update on the organization’s efforts to assist countries in combating AMR. These efforts ranged from global awareness campaigns to the establishment of the Global Antimicrobial Surveillance System to publication of a list of priority pathogens for which new medicines are urgently needed.

Although the global fight against AMR has gained momentum, much work remains to be done. The WHA meeting highlighted a number of steps that the WHO plans to take, including:

  • Maintaining sustained political commitment from individual governments and the international community.
  • Supporting the development and implementation of individual governments’ national action plans.
  • Ensuring that all countries have the capacity to respond to AMR, including national surveillance systems and infection prevention and control programs.
  • Promoting the appropriate use of antimicrobials in health care settings and food production.

Need for continued U.S. leadership

In the U.S., significant progress has been made since the release of the National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB) in 2014, and The Pew Charitable Trusts supports sustained funding for the plan’s full implementation, including numerous programs that are essential to protecting the public health. Additionally, as part of Pew’s ongoing commitment to this fight, we recently joined over 40 public health and industry stakeholders in sending a letter to Tom Price, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, urging him to remain vigilant in safeguarding Americans from the growing threat of AMR. Pew looks forward to working with Secretary Price and other policymakers and stakeholders—both domestically and abroad—to continue the momentum and ensure that our collective efforts are sufficient to meet the magnitude of the threat.

Kathy Talkington directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project; Andrea Stoesz works on the project. 

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