For nearly one hundred years, antimicrobials – the collective term for antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics – have been at the heart of modern health care.
With their discovery in the early part of the 20th century, a new era of remarkable advances in human health began, enabling health-care professionals to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants that once caused extensive suffering and mortality, transforming the wellbeing of millions of people around the world.
Today, life without access to effective antimicrobial agents is, for most of us, simply unimaginable. However, the extended use of antimicrobials has led to some pathogens becoming resistant and treatment less effective. That is why WHO works with countries to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Today 148 countries have national action plans on AMR in place, but implementing these plans remains challenging for many low- and middle-income countries. Competing public health priorities, lack of funding and limited capacities are all impeding progress in turning plans into action.
When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced a US$ 21.6 million voluntary contribution in support of the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the area of AMR, WHO embraced this opportunity.
Assistant Director-General, Dr Hanan Balkhy, said: “Having a bigger pool of flexible funds has allowed us to advance our work innovatively and provide the much-needed support to WHO country offices to ensure impact in low- and middle-income countries. This funding model allows WHO to be strategic and agile in efforts to address antimicrobial resistance – a threat to each of WHO’s Triple Billion Targets – and to drive public health impact in countries.’’
WHO has identified an initial seven countries to benefit from a comprehensive technical package to support the implementation of national action plans on AMR based on the specific country needs. These countries include Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan. WHO will focus on assisting the countries in building their capacity across the relevant technical areas including multisectoral governance, awareness, surveillance, laboratory strengthening,
Infection Prevention and Control (IPC), stewardship, and monitoring and evaluation. WHO will also assist countries in incorporating their AMR national action plan into their respective United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks and in prioritizing multilateral collaboration at country level. WHO Headquarters, regional and country offices will also play a key role in ensuring best practices are shared among countries as they implement their national action plans on AMR.
The support from Saudi Arabia will also enable WHO to appoint a dedicated AMR senior technical advisor in each WHO Country Office of the seven countries to support the coordination of implementation of national action plans.
The AMR advisors will support the countries to build partnerships across other country-based health sector programmes and initiatives; to enhance coordination with other sectors (animal health, food production and environment); and to monitor programme targets, and WHO’s Global Programme of Work and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators.
The aim is to demonstrate how capacity building can lead to success in long-term implementation. The lessons learned from the initial seven countries will be used to update and scale up the approach globally, to tackle this urgent global crisis that threatens a century of progress in health and achievement of the SDGs.
Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said: “Under spirit of the EMR vision; health for all by all, we are grateful for the generous support from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and are delighted to align in the priority to strengthen the capacities of LMICs in the Eastern Mediterranean Region to combat AMR, the hidden epidemic, that threatens many of our health achievements.”