Antimicrobial resistance has been named by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity. Antimicrobial-resistant infections are estimated to have killed at least 1.27 million people worldwide and were associated with nearly 5 million deaths in 2019. It’s estimated that growing antimicrobial resistance has the potential to kill 10 million people globally per year by 2050.
The One Health approach
One Health is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimise the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognises that the health of humans, domestic animals, plants and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and interdependent.
Successful public health interventions require the cooperation of human, animal, and environmental health partners. Professionals in human health (doctors, nurses, public health practitioners, epidemiologists), animal health (veterinarians, paraprofessionals, agricultural workers), environment (ecologists, wildlife experts), and other areas of expertise need to communicate, collaborate on and coordinate activities. No one person, organisation or sector can address issues at the animal-human-environment interface alone.One Health
By using the One Health approach, it is hoped that we can reduce antimicrobial-resistant infections and improve human and animal health.
What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?
Resistance happens when harmful germs (bacteria and fungi) defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Any antibiotic use – in people, animals or crops – can lead to resistance. Resistant germs are a One Health problem – they can spread between people, animals and the environment (for example, water and soil).
Antibiotics and antifungals save lives, but their use can contribute to the development of resistant germs. Antimicrobial resistance is accelerated when the presence of antibiotics and antifungals pressure bacteria and fungi to adapt.
Antibiotics and antifungals kill some germs that cause infections, but they also kill helpful germs that protect our body from infection. The antimicrobial-resistant germs survive and multiply. These surviving germs have resistance traits in their DNA that can spread to other germs.
AMR and New Zealand
The New Zealand Government is acting to help reduce the risks posed by antimicrobial resistance. The New Zealand Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan was published in 2017 and has scheduled updates. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser has also published the Infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance report with recommendations. Teachers can help implement one of the recommendations:
To investigate ways of engaging rangatahi and tamariki in AMR and infectious disease conversations through hui and workshops, resources, and curricula at primary, intermediate, and secondary level.
Antibiotics in farm animals
New Zealand has a very low use of antibiotics in farm animals compared to other countries. Antibiotics can only be used in animals if they are prescribed by a veterinarian to treat or prevent disease. In New Zealand, antibiotics are not used as growth promoters and many animals are farmed extensively (over large areas of land). Intensively farmed animals can have greater disease pressure and poorer hygiene and health – meaning animals are more likely to catch disease and have a greater need for antibiotic use.
It is important to always follow your vet’s advice when treating animals to make sure the right antibiotic is used for the right time to reduce the risk of resistant bacteria developing.
What can we do to help reduce the risk of AMR?
One of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce antimicrobial resistance is to prevent infection in the first place. This can be as simple as having good hygiene, like washing your hands with soap and water regularly and after touching animals. Make sure you and your pets are vaccinated to help keep everyone healthy.
If you or your pets are prescribed antibiotics, make sure to take the medicine as directed and dispose of any left-over medicine and packaging carefully. Don’t share medicines with others who weren’t prescribed it. Remember, antibiotics don’t work for viruses, so don’t demand antibiotics from your doctor for viral illness like colds or flu.
An important point that is often confused – the bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics, not the person or animal taking them.
Nature of science
People often consider antimicrobial resistance to be a human issue – with concerns about its effects on human health. Integrated efforts like One Health show that antimicrobial resistance is a much wider issue, requiring experts to work across the animal-human-environment interface. It also highlights the importance of the collaborative nature of science.
Tetracyclines are used to treat human and animal infections. They are some of the most frequently used antibiotics because they act against a wide range of bacteria and are not very expensive. The environmental fate of chemicals – a context for learning explores tetracycline, zinc and neonicotinoid insecticides as socio-scientific issues and includes science concepts, mātauranga Māori and curriculum links.
One Health is a collaborative approach – working at local, regional, national and global levels – with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes, recognising the interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment. Visit their AMR page.
World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) is a global campaign to improve awareness and understanding of AMR and encourage best practices among the public. It runs each year from 18–24 November.
Royal Society Te Apārangi has produced a series of articles and videos about antimicrobial resistance, including te reo Māori resource He uaua ake te rongoā i ngā whakapokenga ātete rongoā.
Find out more about the Infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance report from the Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor released in March 2022. There are a series of recommendations under six themes to help Aotearoa New Zealand unite against the threat of infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance.
The Ministry of Health has information and links on its website – Resources for antibiotic awareness.
This content has been developed in partnership with New Zealand Food Safety.