Global leaders from across Africa meet to counter microbial resistance, help global fight

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) will convene a landmark summit of key regional stakeholders and international experts today to discuss antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and diagnostics.

During the event, a significant Memorandum of Understanding will be signed between the two organizations, pledging a commitment to identify collaborative opportunities for joint research, development, manufacturing, introduction and scale-up of innovative health technologies and programmes that result in the reduction of mortality and morbidity due to AMR and tuberculosis (TB).

Every year, 700,000 people are killed from drug-resistant strains of common bacterial infections or AMR. Data on the true extent of the problem is missing around the world, but especially in Africa and South East Asia.

The inappropriate use of antibiotics and other medicines is fuelling the emergence of AMR globally, and is reducing the effectiveness of the few therapeutic options available to treat and respond to severe bacterial illnesses.

Health systems under strain require interventions and innovations that are sustainable, affordable and which can be taken to scale. It is estimated that by 2050, AMR will cause 10 million deaths per year, with an estimated loss of over 100 trillion USD in economic output. The World Bank expects the economic and human impact to disproportionately affect low- and middle-income countries.

Any meaningful action on AMR must focus on initiatives that are relevant to low-resource settings. Convening AMR + Africa + Diagnostics in Africa reflects this imperative and provides an opportunity to bring to the table regional experts, including those with deeply relevant experience working in TB and HIV.

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, where the summit is taking place, has been home to important initiatives in South Africa’s public health history. The first South African public sector programme started here, to provide antiretroviral therapy for HIV at primary care levels, as did one of the country’s first pilot projects to provide decentralized care for drug-resistant TB.

External factors like water scarcity and the ongoing drought in Cape Town also exacerbate AMR. When people cannot wash regularly with soap and water, it can lead to the spread of resistant pathogens – usually more common in places where infrastructure challenges exist. The people who understand these challenges must be part of the solution.

“Being acquainted with the scale of antimicrobial resistance informs our response strategies to counter the impact of AMR in the provision of present and future healthcare”, said Professor Glenda Gray, President & CEO of the SAMRC. “This stakeholder summit is centred on resolve.”

AMR + Africa + Diagnostics – the first meeting of its kind to put diagnostics at the centre of the critical issue of AMR – coincides with the Prince Mahidol Award Conference currently taking place in Bangkok, Thailand, where global leaders are discussing strategies to protect the world from the threats of emerging infectious disease. It serves as a timely reminder that diagnostics are a critical component in the fight against AMR, and that the world has much to learn from Africa in this respect.

The summit hopes that sharing lessons learned in Khayelitsha and throughout Africa – on how to get people at every level to get tested and get treated on HIV, TB and other diseases including STIs, sepsis and beyond – can help experts at the Bangkok meeting to strengthen the global response to AMR.

“Africa has been at the forefront of the fight against other infectious diseases like HIV and TB, both in terms of testing and treatment, so we need build this into the fight against AMR in the region and around the world. Diagnostics can help contain the spread of AMR – with African leadership, health experts, and civil society organisations committed to working on this issue together, we must turn talk into action,” said Dr Catharina Boehme, CEO of FIND.

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