We need to urgently address antibiotic resistance

The issue of antibiotics, and the fact that one day they will not work anymore, is one which must be addressed as a matter of priority.

There has already been a recent documented case of a woman in the US where none of the 26 antibiotics available in the US worked on the incurable infection (superbug) that eventually killed her.

The introduction of penicillin in the 1940s heralded the antibiotic era – but we are now in the era of antibiotic resistance, also known as antimicrobial resistance, or AMR for short. I was shocked to read that according to a recent review on AMR commissioned by the UK government – 700,000 people worldwide die annually from AMR-related infections. Moreover, a predicted death toll of 10 million by 2050 will make AMR the world’s largest cause of death-surpassing cancer.

According to Professor Colum Dunne, Director of Research at the University of Limerick’s Graduate Entry Medical School, failing to resource vigilance in this area means that when outbreaks occur the resulting actions are fire- fighting rather than planned for, as threats are identified through monitoring.

AMR is global healthcare and economic problem and should be a priority for this and other governments. In fact according to the journal of Hospital Infection- HCAI affect up to 80,000 patients in European hospitals in any given day.

I was encouraged to hear however, that Irish researchers are playing a key role in European work to limit the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals.

Professor Dunne is a member of the management group of an EU consortium set up late last year to carry out studies of the potential of anti-microbial coatings.

A four-year project is currently probing the potential of coatings that might not just repel but also eliminate micro- organisms that come into contact with everyday hospital textiles such as bed sheets and gowns. These anti-microbial coatings could also be used on solid surfaces such as walls, floors, beds, and tables.

The spread of superbugs such as MRSA, E.coli, and clostridium difficile are a big problem in the healthcare sector. Each year, some 4m people in the EU are affected by healthcare-associated infections, including multi-drug-resistant bacteria.

Not all are potentially fatal, but they can disrupt delivery of services and complicate and lengthen treatment of hospital patients.

New approaches such as these coatings are needed to protect hospital patients and healthcare staff in the form of surfaces fortified with active ingredients that are responsible for the reduction and even elimination of micro-organisms that come into contact with them.

According to Professor Dunne, new applications of coatings to existing hospital infrastructure, as well as their use in the manufacture of disposable items like bed sheets and other textiles, are possible.

As such, I believe that the HSE should do all that it can to support this endeavour especially when taking into consideration investment into new hospitals. There is no silver bullet to tackle the challenge of AMR – but clearly any new practice that reduces the unnecessary use of antibiotics must be considered and supported.

I am also calling on the Minister for Health to address this hugely alarming issue in the Chamber.

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