Hundred years back, a wound as simple as a small cut could become fatal because of a bacterial infection. The discovery of antimicrobials – antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics – changed that. Capable of killing organisms inside our body without harming us, antimicrobials have become the go-to drugs for every cough or cold without a doctor's prescription, leading to overuse.
What Is Antimicrobial Resistance?
Unnecessary exposure to antimicrobials can have several side effects, including antimicrobial resistance (AMR). In simple terms, this means every time we use antimicrobials inappropriately, microorganisms such as bacteria acquire the ability to tolerate the treatments and will be able to survive, making the drugs less effective over time. These organisms (superbugs) that survive antimicrobials can increase illness and mortality in humans.
According to a report, 1 in 5 cancer patients undergoing treatment are hospitalised due to infections, and antibiotics are their main line of defence. This means AMR can have an adverse effect on cancer treatment, and it can threaten the key advances made in cancer care and the survival of cancer patients. According to an article in The Lancet, due to low immunity, cancer patients are more susceptible to infections which means surgeries and treatment like bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy can put immense pressure on the patient's immune system.
Excessive usage of antimicrobials can eventually roll back on the progress made to date in cancer treatment. With the increasing threat of AMR, the growing cancer burden is a global public health issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
Jyoti Patil Shah, COO, V Care Foundation, said, "Infections are a part of our daily lives. A little sore throat or cold, and people pop an antibiotic without consulting the doctor. Patients are more prone to infection during active cancer treatment due to varied factors, a major one being low immunity. V Care Foundation, as an organization, would like to help build awareness about preventing infection and AMR in cancer care not just in India but also internationally. V Care has taken this step to make patients, caregivers and many out there aware of how to prevent infections and antimicrobial resistance in cancer patients."
A report by WHO suggests that the main factors of antimicrobial resistance are overuse of antimicrobials, inferior infection and disease prevention and control in healthcare facilities and farms, lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), lack of access to quality, affordable medicines, vaccines and diagnostics, lack of awareness and knowledge, and lack of enforcement of legislation.
Bacteria can share genes across bacterial species, which means AMR can naturally occur through genetic change and be passed on from one species to another.
Dr. Navin Khattry, Deputy Director, Clinical Research Centre, ACTREC and Prof. of Medical Oncology, Tata Hospital, said, "Antimicrobials must be used wisely. Unless one is sure there is an infection, one must not use it indiscriminately. The misuse of antimicrobials can be stopped by spreading awareness about the harm caused by antimicrobials if used extensively. Good stewardship of using antimicrobials is important. A group of physicians and microbiologists who understand the resistance patterns of various organisms should be made available in the hospitals. The knowledge on resistance patterns must be used wisely so that it doesn't lead to further resistance."
A Global Health Concern
Today, AMR has been declared as one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity, requiring urgent action by The World Health Organisation (WHO). Without action, medical procedures will become riskier, and the number of people for whom treatment fails or deaths due to infections will increase.
Every year, about 700,000 people worldwide die of resistant infections because of the reduced effectiveness of the available antimicrobial drugs at killing resistant pathogens. It's predicted that by 2050, antimicrobial-resistant conditions will cause more deaths than cancers and cardiac disease, accounting for more than 10 million deaths per year. To increase awareness, both WHO and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have action plans in place.
A global effort is required to combat AMR and prevent the inappropriate use of antibiotics. In many developing countries, antibiotics continue to be available over the counter. Individuals often self-medicate themselves by taking drugs inappropriately, either as an incorrect dose or to treat a non-bacterial ailment. Sometimes doctors may also overprescribe antibiotics due to a lack of diagnostic tests to identify the cause of illness.
The more humans kill bacteria with different antibiotics; the more opportunities bacteria will have to develop new genes to resist those antibiotics. The less we use, the fewer bacteria can develop resistance. V Care Foundation, a patient-focused organization dedicated to providing support to cancer warriors and caregivers, has initiated a campaign on creating awareness about Antimicrobials Resistance across India. The Logical Indian Team appreciates the efforts of the V Care Foundation addressing and bringing attention to a global health concern that affects millions.