In this Royal Society Te Apārangi video, microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles explains the growing health issues regarding antimicrobial resistance and what we can do to address the problem.
Dr Siouxsie Wiles
So we’re running out of medicines to treat these microbes. They are becoming resistant to the medicines that we normally use to treat them, so bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, viruses are becoming resistant to the antiviral drugs that we use. Ever since we’ve been using these medicines, the microbes have become resistant to them, but we’ve always had other options, other treatments available. The problem is now that the shelf is empty, the cupboards are bare, there are no more medicines to treat some of these agents, and that means that they are essentially becoming untreatable. We should be really concerned. So at the moment, very small numbers of people are dying from these resistant microbes, but it’s predicted that, by 2050, more than 10 million people will be dying a year around the world, and that’s more than cancer.
In New Zealand, we are as vulnerable as the rest of the world. So we have higher rates of many infectious diseases than countries like the USA and the UK and Australia, and a growing number of those organisms are becoming resistant to our medicines. Here in New Zealand, we travel a lot, so every time we travel overseas, whether it’s for holiday or for trade and business, we have the opportunity to bring resistant organisms back into New Zealand, but we are also breeding them here ourselves by the way that we use and abuse antibiotics especially.
In New Zealand, we’ve got lots and lots of researchers who are trying to address this problem. We’ve got researchers trying to develop new vaccines, others of us are trying to develop new antibiotics and antivirals. Also, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for Primary Industries are working on a national action plan to develop wiser ways that we can use these amazing medicines. In reality, that action plan can only really delay and reduce the severity of what’s going to happen with infectious diseases and resistance here. It’s really bleak, it’s really, really serious. It’s up there with climate change and global war, really, for how it’s going to affect us.
There are things we can do on an individual basis. Things like making sure that you wash your hands properly and dry them properly so that you don’t spread infectious diseases and also making sure that you only take these medicines when prescribed in the way that the doctor prescribes them and that you don’t demand them either for yourselves or your pets.
This video was produced by the Royal Society Te Apārangi. For more information about antimicrobial resistance and the evidence that underpins this video, visit their Expert Advice webpage.