23 November 2022

antimicrobial resistance is a threat to us all

To mark Antimicrobial Awareness Week, Brooke's Senior Manager of Global Animal Health Dr Shereene Williams sheds a light on the difficult reality for vets around the world as they balance animal health with a lack of resources.

Brooke-trained vets treat an equine at the Dodola Town Equine Welfare Service and Training Centre in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia.

Animal health and welfare matters to more than just animals. It matters to the 2.5 billion people who derive their livelihoods from agriculture, it matters to the economies of developing nations where agriculture is often the backbone and it matters to the nearly 5 million families who lost loved ones whose deaths were associated with antimicrobial resistance.

This week is the World Health Organisation’s Antimicrobial Awareness Week, with a key focus on ‘Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance Together’ and a clear message that keeping animals healthy is an important measure to reduce the need for antimicrobial treatment in the first place.

The use of antimicrobials within animal health has quite rightly been under the spotlight and we have seen a focus on restricting veterinarians’ use of antimicrobials.

However what happens when an antimicrobial is one of only four medicines in your kit?

This is the reality for vets around the world. In 2020, Brooke Ethiopia conducted a field survey in which of the seven hundred cases seen within thirteen health posts in one month, 100% of cases received an anthelmintic (de-wormer) or antimicrobial (antibiotic). 87% of cases were treated with one or a combination of only three drugs.

When faced with sick or injured animals and owners who rely on them to earn a living, vets feel compelled to try anything they can to improve the situation. When key medicines such as pain relief are not available, vets have very little choice but to use whatever they have in their kit, too often this is an antimicrobial.

It is our feeling that it is only when vets have access to essential medicines and vaccines that they can use antimicrobials sparingly and protect us all from the threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Brooke Ethiopia’s Dr Alemayehu Hailemariam.

Beyond Ethiopia, Brooke’s recent global survey with the World Veterinary Association (WVA) demonstrated that access to essential medicines and vaccines is an important issue for vets around the world, with 80% of respondents feeling vets’ ability to address animal health needs are restricted due to challenges in accessing medicines. Ten countries reported the unavailability of any form of pain relief and 34% of respondents highlighted a lack of access to vaccines, including foot and mouth, tetanus and rabies.

When faced with a very limited selection of medicines and vaccines, vets are forced into making decisions that may contribute to antimicrobial resistance.

Brooke recognises the huge impact that this has on animal health and also human and environmental health. With this in mind, Brooke and the WVA have partnered to form the first essential medicine list for livestock. Our goal is that this list will be applicable globally but is of most use to those countries where access to veterinary medicines prohibit the provision of quality animal health care. Once formed, the list will support prioritisation and improved access and availability of the basic drugs a veterinarian requires in order to do their job.

This week, we remind everyone that animals are more than vectors for disease, their health and welfare matters to us all.

So this week, and all weeks, we remind everyone that animals are more than vectors for disease, their health and welfare matters to us all. Preventing antimicrobial resistance goes far beyond simply restricting use within agriculture, it’s about strengthening entire animal health systems and equipping vets with not just the knowledge but essential medicines and diagnostic tests so they can make informed choices to protect the health of animals, humans and the planet.