(CNS): Local government officials have begun working on a national plan to tackle the growing, global problem of antibiotic resistance. One of the first steps is to measure how much people in Cayman already know about the problem, which is caused by a catalogue of issues, such as the use of antibiotics in food and the over-prescription by doctors. The Cayman Islands, like all other countries, will need to take steps to combat the phenomenon of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) that has led to a troubling increase in the ineffectiveness of drugs used to treat and prevent infections in humans and animals.
The health ministry, the Public Health Department, and the Department of Agriculture have joined forces to work on a plan, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), to deal with AMR and reduce antibiotic use.
AMR occurs when bacteria, parasites, viruses or fungi change in response to the use of these medications. DoA veterinary officer Dr Samantha Dorman said the primary cause is the over-use of medications for human and animal health.
Globally, over-use of antibiotics in livestock rearing, fish farming and plant production contribute to the development of anti-microbial resistance, as well as the misuse of antibiotics by patients who don’t finish a prescribed course.
The spread of resistant infections is assisted by lack of vaccinations, poor on-farm biosecurity measures and sub-standard hygiene practices in hospitals and during cooking. Dorman said that locally, antibiotic use in agriculture is low and the DoA says antibiotics should only be used for treatment of infections and only under the supervision of a veterinarian.
But international organisations describe AMR as potentially the most concerning public health and economic threat of the 21st century. They also estimate that without serious intervention, by 2050 death tolls from resistant infections could reach 10 million annually, with an associated financial burden of US$100 trillion. However, there is reason to believe that if people become more aware, the use of antibiotics can be reduced.
“It is not too late to reduce the impact of resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines, and we all have a part to play in preserving their effectiveness,” Dr Dorman added.
The Health Services Authority (HSA) lab monitors for AMR in the human population on a regular basis and shares its findings with local physicians every six months. Among other things, a national action plan development process will seek to gain better insight into the severity of any local problem and the specific drivers of resistance.
Following a request from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Department of Agriculture has started collecting information on the amounts of antibiotics used in animals by the various animal institutions on-island, and will continue to monitor this on an annual basis. The OIE’s objective is to develop a global database on the use of antimicrobial agents in animals.
Members of the national action plan development working group held their first meeting last month. The team consists of public health, pharmacy, agriculture, infection control, laboratory, and environmental health personnel. It has been tasked by the WHO and PAHO with creating an AMR national action plan draft by the end of May this year. Representatives say they are well on their way to achieving this goal.
The group is now reaching out to the general public through an online survey to gauge existing knowledge about practices that increase the risk and spread of AMR.
The survey can be accessed here
Hard copies of the survey are available at all public health district clinics, at the general practice and public health desks at the Cayman Islands Hospital, at Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac, and the clinic in Little Cayman.
Additional details are available from the Department of Agriculture at 947-3090, email [email protected], or the Public Health Department at 244-2621 or 244-2561.