Episode #86 – Microbes are becoming resistant to antibiotics


Vismita Gupta-SmithWHO Communications

WHO considers antimicrobial resistance a developmental and global health threat. What is antimicrobial resistance? What are the actions we are taking to speed this process and what can we do to stop it?

Hello and welcome to Science in 5. I’m Vismita Gupta-Smith. We are talking to Dr Hanan Balkhy today. Welcome Hanan. Explain antimicrobial resistance to us, please.

Dr Hanan BalkhyAssistant Director-General for AMR, WHO

Thank you Vismita. In fact, pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi try to find smart ways to avoid the effect of medications that want to stop their multiplication or prevent them from existing. If we focus on bacteria, for example, antibiotics are agents. They are medications that are used to prevent the multiplication.

So they kind of stop the  bacteria in their tracks or they actually kill them off. And what we’re seeing now is we’re seeing with the many issues that are leading to the development of resistance in the bacteria that are making them more powerful and they can cause a lot of harm.

Vismita Gupta-SmithWHO Communications

Hanan, explain to us, what are we doing to speed up this process?

Dr Hanan BalkhyAssistant Director-General for AMR, WHO

The reality is that these, as I said, the bacteria, they want to survive. And whenever they’re exposed to these antibiotics, they actually find smart ways to resist the effects of the antibiotic.

So anything that we do, whether we add antibiotics in the animal feed, whether the antibiotics leak into the environment, into our water, into our food, and also when we intentionally and knowingly take antibiotics without a physician’s prescription, without a doctor’s prescription and we use these antibiotics, we are actually assisting and helping these bacteria to develop defensive mechanisms, which is, in other words, called resistance. And that’s why we work with the animal health, with the environmental health, and WHO we’re all working together so we can find ways to use antibiotics less and only use them when needed and in the appropriate way.

 Vismita Gupta-SmithWHO Communications

Hanan, are there actions we can take to prevent these germs from becoming resistant to our treatments?

Dr Hanan BalkhyAssistant Director-General for AMR, WHO

Yes, on the solutions, it’s very important because this is where we all come together,  whether as humans within the different sectors, it becomes very important that we are aware of what is it that we can do to stop the continued emergence of resistance. So at the individual level, I think it’s very important that those who have the ability to only use antibiotics through a prescription, it’s very important. So using an antibiotic with a prescription, with the right compliance to the instructions and not stopping it once you start feeling better, I think that’s very important. Not sharing your antibiotics with your family members, not saving the remaining of your antibiotic course for a future illness. All these are simple issues, but they’re very important. 

For example, in the health care setting, where the spread of bacteria takes place in a very invisible fashion, but it does take place between the different patients, between visitors and patients. So visiting hospitals only  when necessary, making sure that the basics of hand hygiene, of the respiratory etiquette covering your mouth and nose when sneezing, washing your hands or sanitizing them with the alcohol hand gels. 

All of these issues that we also learned, by the way, during the COVID pandemic, the basic hygiene principles in our daily life become very important to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial resistance  as well, and prevents the spread of infection that eventually leads to the larger prescriptions and use of antibiotics.

So those are the things that we can do on a daily basis. But there are processes that we are putting in place that we are working together with the different organizations and with the countries to make sure that we’re not using antibiotics as a compensation for a lack of hygiene when it comes to the animal, human and environmental sectors. That we make sure that our environment is healthy and clean and that we also take care of ourselves, preventing illnesses and preventing the necessity to use antibiotics. So all of these factors combined together. Hopefully, we will start  bending the curve on antibiotic resistance.

Vismita Gupta-SmithWHO Communications

Thank you Hanan. That was Science in 5 today. Until next time, then stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.



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