Of all human diseases, 60% originate in animals: WHO

  • Posted on: 15 November 2018
  • By: Shalini.Sharma

Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to global health. As a result of infection with drug-resistant bacteria an estimated 700 000 people die each year worldwide. A total of around 33 000 die annually in the European Union and European Economic Area, and this number is increasing all the time.

Many of the same microbes (e.g. bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) affect both animals and humans via the environment they share and 60% of all human diseases originate in animals. This means that when microbes develop drug resistance in animals, they can easily go on to affect humans, making it difficult to treat diseases and infections.

This year, the WHO European Region will mark the 4th annual World Antibiotic Awareness Week on 12–18 November, by committing to closer collaboration across sectors to protect human, animal and environment health, in the spirit of One Health.

For World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2018, WHO/Europe is joining forces with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Sub-Regional Representation for Central Asia to urge governments to adopt or strengthen their use of the One Health approach.

The situation is urgent for a number of reasons: Antimicrobials are widely used in livestock production, sometimes to promote growth and sometimes to prevent infection, rather than treating the animal. This overuse of antimicrobials can lead to more drug resistance among microbes. The same classes of antimicrobials are often used in both humans and food-producing animals. The food chain is an important route for transmission of disease and requires close monitoring and coordination to prevent its spread.

All this indicates that no single sector has the capacity to solve the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance alone, but collective action can help the world make progress. The One Health approach means coordinating action across sectors – such as public health, veterinary and environment health – to achieve the best possible health outcomes for all species. It means recognizing that resistant microbes know no borders – they can easily cross from humans to animals and spread from one geographic location to another.

One effective way of protecting human health is by reducing the chances of resistance developing among microbes in animals. Many governments are phasing out the use of antibiotics as a growth promoter and preventive measure in livestock, and now only use antimicrobials in healthy animals in very exceptional circumstances. Countries that have not already done so are urged to take steps to ensure that the drugs on the reserved lists of essential antibiotics, those which are of the greatest importance to human and veterinary health, are used only when absolutely necessary. This helps prevent antimicrobial resistance from forming and keeps antibiotics working, for humans and animals alike.

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