In an exclusive interview with Innovation News Network the Executive Director of HealthforAnimals, Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, discusses antibiotic resistance in animals and the dangers of zoonotic diseases.
“We provide a single voice on a critical aspect of public and global health: animals. We do this by engaging with international bodies (OIE, WHO, FAO, WTO, World Bank, Codex, etc), governments and the wider health sector around key issues, including animal disease prevention, animal vaccination, antibiotic resistance and access to veterinarians. We also provide information and expertise to ensure that decisions about animal health are informed by the best scientific evidence.”
On a global scale, how serious is the issue of antibiotic resistance in animals?
Antibiotic resistance is a major global health threat, which poses a risk to people, animals and the environment. Just like people, animals worldwide are vulnerable to bacterial diseases that have developed resistance to antibiotics. This not only puts livestock at risk of diseases that cannot be treated, but it also threatens food security, livelihoods and the sustainability of the livestock sector. Antibiotic resistance in animals is very limited according to scientists and veterinarians.
HealthforAnimals and our Members published our ‘Roadmap to Reducing the Need for Antibiotics’ last year, which outlines how we can tackle responsible antibiotic use in a way that safeguards animal welfare.
What are the benefits to researching antibiotic resistance in animals?
Researching and understanding antibiotic resistance in animals will also help us better understand antibiotic resistance in people, and vice versa. Drug resistance is what we would call a “One Health” issue, meaning it affects human, animal and environmental health.
Antibiotic resistance in animals cannot be tackled in isolation without also addressing resistance in people because of the common health challenges and interactions they share.
What number of animal diseases are zoonotic? How many humans have been affected by these diseases?
Zoonotic diseases, which can pass between animals and people, are very common. Around six out of every 10 known infectious diseases that affect people are transmitted by animals, and three in four emerging diseases are zoonotic. They are responsible for at least 2.4 billion cases of human illness and 2.2 million deaths per year. This is another example of a “One Health” issue that shows how protecting animal health can actually safeguard human health.
What implications could this resistance have on human food security?
One in five livestock is lost to disease each year, and any reduction in our ability to treat diseases worsens this problem. This has both direct and indirect consequences for food security. It means fewer animals providing meat, milk and eggs, but it also means lower incomes for those in livestock production.
Is antibiotic resistance in livestock likely to reduce economic growth in less economically sustainable areas?
In many developing countries, livestock are a key economic driver, and so good animal health often represents economic growth. Antibiotic resistance could pose a threat to rural economies in developing regions where animal husbandry approaches are less sophisticated. Addressing this challenge can require different steps to those in developed countries.
For example, a major obstacle to optimum animal health in developing countries is often the lack of access to veterinarians, who can dispense and administer antibiotics in a responsible way. By improving the provision of veterinarians in developing countries, we can better manage the rise of resistance and promote the responsible use of antibiotics and promote more widespread vaccination.
What possible impact does antibiotic resistance in animals have on humans?
While it is possible that resistant bacteria could be passed through animal products, there is widespread scientific agreement that this is a minor transfer route when compared to other ways that humans could become resistant.
The European Centre for Disease Control wrote that “75% of the burden of bacteria resistant to antibiotics …is due to healthcare-associated settings,” while the European Medicines Agency wrote: “…the biggest driver of AMR in people is the use of antimicrobials in humans or human health.” The US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has concurred when reporting “…most deaths related to AMR occur from drug-resistant infections picked up in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes.”
Even in areas where animal antibiotic use has sharply curtailed, there is little evidence showing a direct impact on resistance levels in the general population.
However, it is still essential to limit resistance development and reduce the need for antibiotics in animals. This helps avoid any potential effects on people and ensures treatments for animal disease remain effective — an important welfare consideration. Our Roadmap outlines how we can achieve this.
How are industry leaders acting to reduce antibiotic resistance in animals?
The animal health industry has committed to tackling antibiotic resistance by reducing the need for these drugs in the first place. This means redoubling efforts to prevent disease through vaccination and other measures, as well as developing better means of diagnosis and treatment to minimise the need to use antibiotics.
Our Roadmap to reducing the need for antibiotics features commitments in five key areas by 2025, including developing 100 new vaccines, training 100,000 veterinarians and providing research grants of at least $1 million.
What are policy makers doing to fight antibiotic resistance?
Governments around the world have different priorities and policies for tackling antibiotic resistance because with a problem as complex as resistance, it’s essential that solutions are developed and implemented locally.
Disease prevalence and resistance levels in one country can be markedly different to even their neighbouring country, let alone a nation on the other side of the world. This means responsible use can also look quite different, with one antibiotic being a widely used treatment in one region, while in another more reserved use may be appropriate.
There are steps policymakers, governments and regulators can take at a global level though to help reduce the need for antibiotics. Our Roadmap also sets out actions that the public sector can take, including updating the processes and systems for approving much-needed preventative medicines like vaccines and boosting public funding for veterinary research.
Recently, both the European Court of Auditors and the Review of Progress on AMR acknowledged that the animal sector had achieved significant progress in fighting AMR.
What impact does antibiotic resistance have in times of outbreak?
Antibiotic resistance reduces our ability to treat bacterial infections with antibiotics, and this can have devastating effects in the event of an outbreak. Our best hope for avoiding this is to prevent disease from occurring in the first place through vaccination, good hygiene and rigorous biosecurity measures to avoid contamination.
What are vector-borne diseases? Why is researching them so important?
Vector-borne diseases are those which are carried and transmitted by vectors such as insects or ticks to humans or animals. Some of these can be zoonotic, such as Rift Valley Fever, which is passed from mosquitoes to livestock and from livestock to people. Vector-borne diseases are challenging because they have up to three times the reach than other diseases. One in four of the animal diseases of most concern to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are vector-borne.