The UK must continue to provide global leadership on Anti-microbial resistance which kills millions every year

Up until November last year, I had the privilege of serving as Minister of State in the Department of Health and Social Care, a Department where despite your best efforts, you spend a considerable amount of your time fire-fighting and dealing reactively to issues.

During my time in the Department there were many pressing issues that concerned me, some of which remain today but there was one in particular that scared me. That is Anti-microbial resistance (AMR).

Globally, in 2019, there were 4.95 million deaths associated with AMR and 1.27 million of those were directly attributed. The OECD has found that one in five infections, are now resistant to antibiotics, with the potential for this rate to double by 2035. The World Health Organisation has declared AMR as one of the top 10 global public health threats, and AMR is listed on the UK Government’s National Risk Register.

AMR occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites no longer respond to antimicrobial medicines. While resistance is a natural phenomenon, we know that there are countries where anti-biotics are routinely kept in cupboards and medicine drawers at home and taken when people feel unwell. We know that there are countries where anti-biotics can be purchased over the counter or online without seeing a doctor or having a prescription.

In 2021, there were 53,985 serious antibiotic resistant infections in England, a rise of 2.2% from 2020. If left unchecked, resistance to third-line antimicrobials – the last resort drugs against difficult-to treat infections – could be 2.1 times higher by 2035.

This means that health systems will be closer to running out of options to treat patients suffering from a range of illnesses such as pneumonia and bloodstream infections. AMR also makes surgeries and medical procedures, that are a normalised part of everyday life, such as caesarean sections, cancer chemotherapy and hip replacements, much riskier.

Despite this, no new class of antibiotics has been developed since the 1980s. Preserving and optimising our current antimicrobial arsenal therefore is urgent and paramount.

The UK Government has taken significant action in this space, in particular the AMR 5 year National Action Plan (NAP), to contain and control AMR by 2040 which the NHS Long Term Plan details commitments to implement.

I know from first-hand experience, the global leadership the UK shows through the World Health Organisation, especially in partnership with Sweden and I was proud to be able to announce, during my time as Minister of State for Health, an investment of £39m into research through the Global AMR Innovation Fund to help tackle the silent pandemic of AMR. £24m of this has been awarded to bolster the UK’s partnership with CARB-X a global AMR research initiative to support the continued early development of invaluable new anti-biotics, vaccines, rapid diagnostics and other products to combat life-threatening drug-resistant infections and prevent death and disease across the world.

I’m also proud that the UK’s Newton Fund has supported over 70 research teams to conduct crucial research on strategic areas including antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Through the Fleming Fund, the Government has invested £265 million, supporting countries around the globe to generate, share and use data on antimicrobial resistance.

Internationally, there is movement, of course I welcome the landmark 2015 WHO Global Action Plan on AMR which was followed in 2016 by the historic United Nations (UN) Declaration on AMR and more recently The One Health Global Leaders Group (GLG) on AMR was founded in 2020 to provide leadership and maintain political momentum on the issue.

However, I believe that this issue is so serious that more urgent and immediate action needs to be taken.

We need a significant domestic and international awareness and understanding campaign on AMR. We need governments in our respective nations to understand the risks of failure and the public to understand the impact on them and their families, the urgency of the situation and be calling for action.

We need to do more to promote appropriate and adequate global surveillance for AMR to detect and strengthen our knowledge and evidential base.

We need to work towards an international agreement on common, evidence-based goals and support other countries to deliver against them.

We need to use our ODA budget to help reduce the incidence of infection through effective sanitation, hygiene and infection prevention measures.

We need to use the UK’s political positions on international platforms, soft power including ODA and our UK expertise to continue to provide global leadership on AMR.

Finally, support and continue to fund the work of the World Health Organisation on AMR.

I hope that current and future Ministers will continue keep this issue front of mind and treat tackling AMR with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.

Will Quince MP

Will Quince is the Conservative MP for Colchester, and was elected in 2015.