Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is a global threat to health.

Antimicrobial resistance is the broader term for resistance in different types of microorganisms, and encompasses resistance to antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic and antifungal drugs.

When microorganisms become resistant to most antimicrobials, they are often referred to as superbugs.

This is a major concern because a resistant infection may kill, can spread to others, and imposes huge costs to individuals and society. Medical procedures such as surgery could become extremely difficult, or even impossible, due to antimicrobial resistance. Common infections may become untreatable which could lead to death.

What health care professionals can do to minimise antimicrobial resistance

  • Prescribe antibiotics only when necessary, according to evidence-based guidelines. When possible, prescribe a narrow-spectrum antibiotic, not broad-spectrum antibiotic.
  • Advise patients on the importance of taking their treatment correctly.
  • Explain to patients how to relieve symptoms of cold and flu without antibiotics.
  • Explain to patients how to prevent the spread of infection and the importance of vaccination.
  • Adhere to good infection prevention and control practices.

The global and New Zealand situation

Globally, the situation is getting worse, with the emergence of new bacterial strains that are resistant to several antibiotics at the same time; over time, these resistant strains may become resistant to all existing antibiotics.

Recent data from the 2014 World Health Organization Global Antimicrobial Resistance report indicate that New Zealand has comparatively low rates of antimicrobial resistance, particularly when compared to countries in neighbouring regions such as South-East Asia. However, New Zealand should not become complacent, as there has been a rise in antibiotic resistance to some types of infections and increasing consumption of antibiotics.

What we’re doing in New Zealand

Development of a National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategic Action Plan

In May 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance was endorsed by the World Health Assembly. This plan outlines the following five strategic objectives to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

  1. Improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance.
  2. Strengthen knowledge through surveillance and research.
  3. Reduce the incidence of infection.
  4. Optimize the use of antimicrobial agents.
  5. Ensure sustainable investment in countering antimicrobial resistance.

New Zealand has made a commitment to WHO to have a national antimicrobial resistance action plan in place by May 2017.

A cross-agency group has been set up to help develop the action plan. Find out more about their work at Antimicrobial Resistance Strategic Action Plan Development Group.

Work underway to combat antimicrobial resistance in New Zealand

The Ministry of Health contracts the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited (ESR) to undertake an extensive surveillance programme and other activities related to combatting antimicrobial resistance, including establishing and providing support to the Healthcare Associated Infections Governance Group and the New Zealand Microbiology Network.

There are also a range of other initiatives in New Zealand aimed at combatting antimicrobial resistance including, education, surveillance, hand hygiene, andrestrictions on prescriptions and the use of antimicrobials.

These initiatives are undertaken by a number of organisations including PHARMAC, Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand and the Health Quality and Safety Commission.

ESR and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) have released the following reports.

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