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July 01, 2021

Public health experts say now is the time to advocate on drug resistance

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Stephen Morrison, PhD, said now is the moment to push for investments in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Dr. Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and director of its Global Health Policy Center, said that, as the world reaches greater confidence and stability in the fight against COVID-19, public health leaders should plan how to rebuild federal, state, and local public health systems. He expects the public will be anxious to move on and forget the pandemic, and health authorities should position themselves to take advantage of the attention on health now.

He was one of four speakers during a May 13 presentation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on building resilient health systems to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance. CDC officials plan for the webinar to be the first in a series providing expert perspectives on challenges related to antimicrobial resistance in a changed world.

Superbug in a petri dish

As the threat of the pandemic fades, Dr. Morrison said, the threat of antimicrobial resistance persists. He expects failures and shortcomings exposed during the pandemic will lead to conversations about improved public health data collection, understaffed public health systems, and better integration of public health and clinical medicine. And he sees opportunities to push for research and development in public health.

“As we move to a calmer moment of more careful meditation around what we are to do as a country, at home and abroad, I’m hopeful,” he said.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy, said the COVID-19 pandemic—caused by a coronavirus that evidence suggests spread through animals to humans—illustrates the need to embrace the one-health concept. If COVID-19 is unable to teach that lesson, he said, nothing will.

He also called for comprehensive study of animal and human environments, as well as a look at what nations are doing well in human and animal health and their shortcomings. More judicious use of drugs is part of the response, but he warned that lack of access to antimicrobials also kills people. He recommends investments in vaccines against more bacterial pathogens, infection control, and water sanitation as pillars of the response to antimicrobial resistance.

Ben Park, MD, chief of International Infection Control and Prevention in the CDC Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, leads CDC efforts to build sustained capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to health care–associated infections. He said better-designed health care systems and infrastructure could help prepare those systems for modern threats, but that work requires investment, training, and expertise.

Highly drug-resistant bacteria present a looming threat in hospitals and communities, and, as with SARS-CoV-2, asymptomatic people are fueling spread across the world. Achieving health security in the U.S. depends on what happens abroad and whether efforts, such as programs from the CDC, are effective at breaking transmission chains, Dr. Park said.

Dawn Sievert, PhD, is a senior science adviser in the Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit in the CDC Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. She’s also a scientific leader for the CDC Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network as well as a leader in the CDC and FDA Antibiotic Resistance Isolate Bank. She sees a need to learn now from COVID-19 and prepare for the next big emergency so health care systems can manage an influx of patients while maintaining defenses against antimicrobial resistance.

Dr. Sievert also described persistent work by the CDC and agency partners in recent years on identifying and responding to infections that endanger human health.

“Even in the midst of the pandemic, all of this work continued over the past year,” she said. “Sometimes, we had to shift things around, but we still managed to keep it all going.”