The United Nations today announced the establishment of an Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, which will be co-chaired by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Dr Margaret Chan.

“As we enter the era of sustainable development, I would like to emphasise that antimicrobial resistance really does pose a formidable threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly in our developing countries,” Ms Mohammed told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.

Antimicrobial resistance happens when microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs – antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarial, and anthelmintic. Microorganisms that develop antimicrobial resistance are sometimes referred to as “superbugs.” As a result, says WHO, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.

Antimicrobial resistance is a global concern because new mechanisms are developing and threatening the capacity to treat infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability, and even death. Without effective antimicrobials for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management, and major surgery – caesarean sections become very risky.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally, usually through genetic changes. However, the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials are fast-tracking this process. An example of misuse is when they are taken by people with viral infections like colds and flu. Globally, 480,000 people develop multi-drug resistant tuberculosis each year, and drug resistance is starting to complicate the fight against HIV and malaria, also.

Ms Mohammed said the creation of the UN joint agency group to combat Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and advise on the global effort is a sign of how seriously the UN Member States were taking the threat.

Last September, Member States adopted the Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance that contained a request for the UN Secretary-General to establish such a body.

She said AMR is a “multi-sectorial problem” affecting human and animal health, agriculture, as well as the global environment and trade. Clean water, sustainable food production and poverty alleviation are but a few of the challenges it poses.

“Many UN agencies will need to engage in this fight, as will other international organisations, non-governmental organizations, civil society, and critically, the general public,” she explained, welcoming the Secretary-General’s establishment of the group, which would seek to provide practical guidance on the ways to combat AMR and to recommend how global efforts could and should be better coordinated.

WHO chief, Chan, said antibiotic resistance is already prolonging illnesses worldwide, and the political declaration was a vital commitment to help tackle the scourge globally.

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