EPIDEMICS OF CONDITIONS such as tuberculosis (TB) and pneumonia could strike Ireland and become untreatable as antibiotic resistance continues to increase, it has been warned.
Antibiotic resistance occurs as a result of the overuse of antibiotics. As more are prescribed, bacteria build up an immunity against them, thereby decreasing their effectiveness.
Medical professionals have repeatedly warned that antibiotic-resistant infections are increasing in number faster than new antibiotics are being developed.
Ireland is the ninth highest consumer of antibiotics out of 30 countries, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Antibiotic resistance is directly associated with outbreaks of so-called hospital ‘superbugs’ like MRSA and Clostridium difficile.
‘A health crisis’
Dr Kieran Clarke of Alere Ireland, a medical technology company, said 60% of antibiotics prescribed here may be done so unnecessarily.
“This level of prescription and consumption is unsustainable and will almost certainly lead to a health crisis in Ireland, and indeed around the world, if we do not take steps to combat antibiotic resistance now.”
A study commissioned by the UK government found that more than 700,000 people globally die every year as a result of antibiotic resistance. By 2050, this figure could reach over 10 million — more than the current number of annual cancer death.
Clarke said these statistics are “frightening”.
“Antibiotic resistance must be tackled by the HSE, healthcare professionals and the health industry as a matter of utmost urgency. The longer we wait the less effective our existing antibiotics will be and the more expensive our health service will become as costly treatments are required to fight common infections.
Often overlooked when we discuss antibiotic resistance is that the achievements of modern medicine are also put at risk. Without effective antibiotics for prevention and treatment of infections, the success of organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy and major surgery will be compromised.
“There are serious gaps in our current policy towards antibiotic resistance, and focus is not being placed on the right areas. We believe it is essential that GPs and other point-of-care providers are equipped with tools that allow them to instantly test for bacterial infection.”
Clarke said these tests “would allow GPs and pharmacists to prescribe antibiotic medication if required or, alternatively, recommend bedrest and over-the-counter treatment”.
Irish Pharmacy Union President Daragh Connolly previously said antibiotic resistance is “one of the most significant threats to patient safety in Ireland”.
“Repeated and improper use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance in Ireland and around the world. If we allow antibiotic resistance to grow, the antibiotics used to treat infections today will become ineffective or will stop working altogether in the future,” Connolly stated.
The HSE has run campaigns to raise awareness about the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.Source: HSE Ireland/YouTube
The government has committed to publish a National Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance in May, in line with commitments made to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Speaking in the Dáil about antimicrobial resistance recently, Health Minister Simon Harris said: “The rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is universally recognised at global, European and national levels, including Ireland, as one of the greatest potential threats to human and animal health with possible serious consequences for public health, animal welfare and the agriculture and food sectors.
The extensive use, misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in both human and animal health have increasingly raised levels of AMR in a wide range of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites) – in all countries and in patients of all age groups.
“The [National Interdepartmental AMR Consultative] Committee and the Departments of Health and Agriculture, Food and the Marine are currently working to finalise Ireland’s National Action Plan on AMR. This work is ongoing and it is expected that the plan will be published in 2017.
“The plan is examining strategies to optimise Ireland’s response to AMR and this examination will include both timelines for implementation and resource requirements.”
A conference on antimicrobial resistance will be held at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin on 8 March.