The invention of antibiotic medicine was a major success in the history of healthcare provision. Global public health in the 20th century was taken to new heights of development owing to the discovery of antibiotics and a number of infectious diseases have been cured through judicious utilization of antimicrobials.
In recent times, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has become a global challenge, threatening the effective prevention and treatment of a large number of diseases caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses. Recognizing the danger to public health posed by AMR, Eritrea’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has made efforts to increase public awareness and understanding.
World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW), held every November since 2015, often features a wide range of events and activities. WAAW aims to reduce the emergence and spread of AMR and promote the proper use of antibiotics.
In Eritrea, the MOH, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and other ministries, has commemorated WAAW through organizing seminars and presentations, developing and disseminating brochures and other documents, and sharing information on mass media outlets. Messages tend to encourage the proper handling of antibiotics and the judicious use of drugs and medicine. This year, Eritrea will nationally commemorate WAAW from 12-18 November with a number of events and activities guided by the theme of effective use of antibiotics and reducing the threat of AMR.
Preventing AMR requires sound action across government sectors and the society. Otherwise, the significant progress registered in the health sector could be reversed. Improper use of medicine leads to numerous complications and a higher likelihood of infection. Healthcare professionals suggest that the effectiveness of antibiotics is reduced, there could also be a dramatic reduction in the success of major surgeries or treatment of various diseases. As well, the cost of healthcare for patients with resistant infections is much higher due to longer treatment duration and more expensive drugs. In Eritrea, the MOH and other ministries recommend that antibiotics only be used as a last resort to treat illnesses or diseases. According to international organizations, growing drug resistance has complicated the global fight against various diseases, including TB, malaria, and HIV.
Recently, Mr. Iyassu Bahta, Director of National Medicines and Food Administration in the Ministry of Health, stated that the scheduled public awareness campaign will feature programs aiming to inform the public about the benefits associated with the effective use of antibiotics. He further noted that beginning in 2019, the MOH will distribute a national drug prescription guideline to strengthen compliance of healthcare professionals and pharmacists in prescribing medicines.
Due to the improper use of drugs and medicines, humanity’s ability to treat common infectious diseases has been threatened. Additionally, it is important to note that AMR does not only pose a threat to humans, since animals and plants can also be negatively affected by the spread of antibiotic resistance. For instance, “fall army worm” has developed resistance to all sorts of pesticides, thus negatively impacting productivity and posing a global threat. As well, antimicrobial resistant-microbes found in people, animals, food, and the environment can easily spread between people, animals, and the environment.
Mr. Afeworki Mehretab, Head of Animal and Plant Health in the Ministry of Agriculture , expressed deep concerns about the negligent use of drugs by farmers treating animal and plant diseases or seeking to increase productivity. He recommends that farmers only use antibiotics as outlined by professionals and only when there are no other alternatives to treat infections.
Healthcare professionals express concerns that without effective antimicrobials for preventing and treating infections, numerous medical procedures may be rendered ineffective. Even though AMR is a global threat, developing countries with limited resources, such as Eritrea, need to act immediately to control AMR and its dire consequences.
According to the MOH and the Ministry Agriculture (MOA), the misuse of antibiotics in Eritrea is accelerating the spread of AMR. In many situations, antibiotics are overused or utilized without professional guidance. Cognizant of the fact that approximately 60% of human diseases are transmitted from animals, the MOH and MOA have agreed to focus on the epidemiological dimensions of diseases and their remedies.
Mr. Iyassu stated that Eritrea is among the 193 countries that accepted the World Health Organization (WHO) convention associated with AMR and the country is developing a five-year strategic plan to address AMR. He also pointed out that the development of antibiotics has been in decline since the 1970s due to the high costs, thus posing a threat to the prevention and treatment of diseases.
After last year’s highly successful WAAW campaign, several ministries in Eritrea agreed to strengthen cooperation in order to achieve even better outcomes. “A committee comprising the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Information, and other stakeholders has been formed and begun awareness raising campaigns,” Mr. Iyassu revealed.
This year, WAAW will feature seminars and presentations for healthcare professionals, students, and the general public. As well, Eritrea’s Pharmaceutical Association will be a heavily involved in events and activities. The main messages that will be featured in this year’s public materials, such as banners and brochures, include: “Antibiotics do not cure all diseases”; “Caution: to get rid of a future without alternatives, do not share antibiotics prescribed for another patient”; and “Do not misuse or preserve antibiotics for future usage”.