WHO launches new tool to combat global antimicrobial resistance

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The World Health Organization has urged governments around the world to implement a new tool to reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance, as part of a new global campaign.

The AWaRe tool classifies antibiotics into three groups: Access, Watch, and Reserve. It indicates which antibiotics to use for common or serious infections, which ones should be used sparingly or preserved, and which should be used only as a last resort.

WHO said that the campaign could increase the proportion of global antibiotic consumption in the Access group by at least 60%, while reducing the use of antibiotics in the Watch and Reserve groups. This would lower the risk of resistance because Access antibiotics are narrow spectrum, targeting a specific micro-organism rather than several.

Launching the new campaign, WHO labelled antimicrobial resistance a “global health and development threat that continues to escalate globally.” It said that, although more than 100 countries had created national plans to tackle antimicrobial resistance, only a fifth of those plans were funded and implemented.

WHO has previously warned about a serious lack of new antibiotics being developed to counter the threat of antimicrobial resistance, calling for urgent investment in research and development to treat antibiotic resistant infections. But its latest announcement said that, in the absence of such investment, improving the use of antibiotics was “one of the key actions needed to curb further emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.”

It added that the new tool should make it easier for clinicians, policy makers, and prescribers to select the right antibiotic at the right time.

Urgent health risk

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said, “Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent health risks of our time and threatens to undo a century of medical progress.

“All countries must strike a balance between ensuring access to lifesaving antibiotics and slowing drug resistance by reserving the use of some antibiotics for the hardest-to-treat infections. I urge countries to adopt AWaRe, which is a valuable and practical tool for doing just that.”

Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant director general for access to medicines, said, “Antimicrobial resistance is an invisible pandemic. We are already starting to see signs of a post-antibiotic era, with the emergence of infections that are untreatable by all classes of antibiotics.

“We must safeguard these precious last line antibiotics to ensure we can still treat and prevent serious infections.”