Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microbes such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve over time and no longer respond to antimicrobial drugs. As a result, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines can become ineffective and infections become increasingly difficult or even impossible to treat, accelerating the risk of disease, severe illness and death.
Antimicrobial drugs - including antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics - are used to prevent and treat infections. They also minimise the risk of infection associated with a range of modern healthcare procedures, such as caesarean sections, hip replacements or chemotherapy. Without effective antimicrobials, these procedures would carry an increased risk of infection and associated problems.
The World Health Organisation has declared AMR to be one of the top ten threats to global health. Recent research estimated that in 2019, 4.95 million deaths were associated with bacterial AMR worldwide. AMR can spread via humans, animals, the environment and the food chain, and can move between countries. To control it effectively, we need a ‘One Health’ approach. This requires coordinated action on human health, animal health, minimising the spread of AMR through the environment, and food safety. In addition, we need to act together with international partners.
The "Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance", adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2015, urged all members to develop national action plans on AMR. Building on work in Scotland since 2008, Scottish experts helped to develop the UK Government’s 20-year Vision to contain and control AMR by 2040, and its 5-year National Action Plan, “Tackling antimicrobial resistance 2019-24”.
The Plan focuses on three key ways of tackling AMR:
- reducing need for, and unintentional exposure to, antimicrobials
- optimising use of antimicrobials
- investing in innovation, supply and access
We work closely with experts to improve areas such as:
- infection prevention and control in humans and animals
- good practice in prescribing antimicrobial drugs for humans and animals, and making sure they are disposed of in the right way
- research and diagnostic work in laboratories
- food safety
- minimising the spread of AMR through the environment
- international partnership
What you can do
Everyone can help to protect these valuable drugs for the future. This can be done by:
- following human and animal healthcare professionals’ advice about the best use of antimicrobials
- taking any unused antimicrobial drugs to a pharmacy for safe disposal so as to protect the environment
The annual “Keep Antibiotics Working” public awareness campaign, which runs every November to December throughout Scotland, gives more information on the contribution that we can all make.
The following organisations play key roles in this work:
- ARHAI Scotland (within NHS National Services Scotland)
- Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (within Healthcare Improvement Scotland)
- NHS Education for Scotland
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency
- Food Standards Scotland
- Scottish One Health Antimicrobial Use and Antimicrobial Resistance (SONAAR) in 2020
- Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group
- Scotland’s National Infection Prevention and Control Manual
- NHS Education for Scotland educational resources on Antibiotic Management
- Scotland’s Healthy Animals
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency sector plans
- One Health Breakthrough Partnership (ohbp.org)
For more information, please email HAI-AMR_Policy_Unit@gov.scot
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