Antibiotic resistance makes infections harder to treat

Media release

17 November 2020

The Ministry of Health is supporting World Antimicrobial Awareness Week starting tomorrow (18 – 24 November 2020) by helping health professionals educate New Zealanders about the use of antimicrobial medicines.

The World Health Organization says antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and the environment, and it can result in superbugs becoming more of a threat.

Antimicrobial medicines include antibacterials, anti-virals, antiseptics, anti-fungals and anti-parasitic medicines. These become less effective when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites become resistant to key antimicrobials, making common infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death.

Ministry of Health Chief Science Advisor Dr Ian Town says that even with COVID-19 as the overriding health priority in New Zealand, health professionals around the country recognise the threat posed by antibiotic resistance, and are working together to raise awareness.

“Everyone can play their part in helping to reduce resistance to antibiotics and other medicines,” says Dr Town.

“Overuse of antibiotics in humans, animals and plants is driving the rise of drug-resistant infections and bacteria, which are making these medicines less effective. 

“These medicines are precious resources and they need to be used with care.”

The Ministry is supporting a sector-wide initiative led by Antimicrobial Stewardship Pharmacists to raise awareness about antimicrobial use, and encouraging prescribers to document their use of antimicrobial medicines.

The initiative is also being supported by all district health boards, PHARMAC, Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand, Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand, New Zealand Hospital Pharmacists Association, ACC, Health Quality and Safety Commission, Ministry for Primary Industries and Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand.

“Antibiotics only work against bacteria, they don’t work for viral infections like a cold or the flu – or COVID-19," says Dr Town.

“As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise overseas, the World Health Organization is raising concerns that the misuse of antibiotics during this pandemic could accelerate the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.

“Basic habits like good hand hygiene can help stop resistance by reducing the need for antibiotics. COVID-19 shows how important it is to practice infection prevention in our healthcare settings and in our day-to-day lives.”

Dr Town also acknowledged the massive commitment which has been made throughout the health and disability sector to boost our infection prevention guidelines and procedures. 

“Maintaining these measures will help keep antimicrobials working.”

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Blair Cunningham    

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