Speech of Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the World Antibiotic Awareness Week event

13 November 2017 — Manila

Distinguished officials and experts
Partners, especially representatives from FAO and OIE – joining us by video
Colleagues and friends

I am very happy to be here with you to mark this year’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week.

Resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs is one of the most significant threats to global health, food security, and global development in general.

If we don’t tackle this issue, urgently, decades of advances in health and medicine risk being undone. For instance, routine surgery will become extremely high risk, and illnesses which are currently curable will once again kill.

Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally of course, but misuse of antibiotics in humans – and animals – is accelerating the process.

World Antibiotic Awareness Week aims to increase awareness about the problem – and the steps all of us can take to tackle it.

Antibiotic resistance and universal health coverage

Antibiotic resistance is a very serious issue for the Western Pacific Region.

The burden of infectious diseases – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea – is still very high in many countries in the Region – especially in the poorer segments of the population. Drug resistant forms of these diseases are a particularly serious concern.

This is a problem in itself – but it also poses a challenge for the achievement of universal health coverage.

When there is no financial coverage for purchasing medicines, people buy inappropriate amounts of antibiotics to try to get well – especially in places where regulation is poor and antibiotics can be purchased without a prescription. This is a big driver of antibiotic overuse and misuse in the region.

We need to ensure access to quality, secure and effective antibiotics to treat these infections.

We also need to tackle the problem from many angles –ensuring financial protection against high costs of treating drug-resistant infections, strengthening supply systems, and monitoring consumption and use of drugs.

Serious action is needed now

Globally, we already face worrying levels of resistance in both hospital- and community-acquired infections. And alarmingly, resistance is now found in response to some of our last-resort antibiotics.

Quite simply, we are running out of effective antibiotics. We can no longer ignore the urgency and gravity of this issue: resistance to antibiotics and other drugs is a serious public health emergency.

Everyone has a role to play

Today, I call on everyone to join our campaign to stop the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.

For governments and policy-makers, this means leadership – and getting the right policy settings in place, to ensure that antibiotics are not misused and overused. This requires engaging sectors beyond health – including the animal health and agriculture sectors.

For health workers, this means only prescribing antibiotics if they are really needed. It also requires making sure there are strong infection prevention and control measures in place in health facilities.

For veterinary professionals and farmers, please, use antibiotics responsibly! Don’t use them to promote growth in animals which are not sick.

For the medicines industry, this requires responsibility and accountability in the marketing, supply and distribution of antibiotics. Let me be very clear on this: we want the medicines industry to be partners in our efforts to tackle this problem.

And finally, for the general public, we all have a role to play too. And it is not very difficult. Wash your hands – regularly and thoroughly – to stop germs from spreading. Don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics if they’re not needed. And if you really do need them, make sure to always follow your doctor’s advice on the right course of treatment.

Working together across sectors

As I mentioned earlier, tackling antimicrobial resistance requires working beyond the health sector. WHO is very pleased to be partnering with both FAO and OIE to support countries to combat AMR – and in the broader campaign to raise awareness of this issue. Again, it is wonderful to have colleagues from both organizations here today – thank you for joining us.

Let me finish by saying this. In my view, antimicrobial resistance is one of the issues on which we will be judged by future generations. Our actions now will shape public health for decades to come. Will our grandchildren, and their children, say we did enough?

The evidence on the scope and scale of the problem is overwhelming. The solutions are clear. We have a collective responsibility to act. Let’s get on with it!

Thank you.