Dr Mark Schipp on antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

02 Nov 2023

(Image: amr.gov.au

A reminder: what is AMR?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites no longer respond to antimicrobial agents. Antimicrobials are antibiotics, antivirals, antiparasitics and antifungals. Microorganisms naturally develop resistance to antimicrobials over time through genetic changes, but the inappropriate use of antimicrobials can accelerate the changes to the microorganism that allow resistance to develop and flourish. This can be problematic when infections in both humans and animals are harder to treat or are not treatable at all.

Raising awareness of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

The continued need to address AMR in Australia and globally as a One Health issue is a necessary one. Australian veterinarians are in a unique position to improve this for animal owners, farmers, and their pets as we routinely prescribe and dispense medications to animals. We are adept at following good antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) practices, but AMR remains as one of the biggest threats to human and animal health today. The issue of AMR is something we all need to be aware of and work together to prevent as it doesn’t discriminate animal species or international borders. It is a global issue that impacts people, animals, and our shared environment.

As veterinarians it is vital that we all continue to use antimicrobials judiciously to prevent the spread of AMR. As the first point of contact for animal health expertise for the general public, we are incredibly influential advocates for educating the animal-owning community about the responsible use of antimicrobials. Please remember to consider the need for each antimicrobial prescription, take the opportunity to talk to clients about antimicrobial use and continue to apply best practice biosecurity measures.

The birth of Australia’s Animal Sector Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan 2023 to 2028

On the 22 September 2023, Australia’s first Animal Sector Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan 2023 to 2028 (animal sector plan) was published. Developed by the animal sector for the animal sector, it provides Australia’s animal health and animal industry sectors with agreed priority activities for the terrestrial and aquatic animal sectors to implement the 2020 Strategy. The ‘Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and Beyond’ (2020 Strategy) was released in March 2020.

The 2020 Strategy focused on a One Health approach across the 5 key sectors of humans, animals, food, agriculture, and the environment. In February 2021, a coordinated ‘One Health Master Action Plan for Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy to 2020 and Beyond’ (OHMAP) was published. The aim of the OHMAP was to provide guidance on the implementation of the 2020 Strategy’s 7 key objectives: governance, infection prevention and control, communication and engagement, antimicrobial stewardship, AMR surveillance, research, and global partnerships.

Australia’s Animal Sector Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan 2023 to 2028 was drafted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to align with the 7 objectives of the 2020 Strategy and priority activities of the OHMAP and in consultation with animal sector stakeholders. The animal sectors included in the plan comprise: terrestrial and aquatic food- and fibre-producing animals, companion animals (including performance animals), zoological collections, laboratory animals and wildlife treated with antimicrobials.

Australian animal sector stakeholders agreed to provide strategic, national, and coordinated support through this industry specific action plan and its activities. These activities are intended to be the focus of the next 5 years to minimise the development and spread of AMR. DAFF held a webinar to launch the animal sector plan in late October, and presentations and discussion on the animal sector plan and work already being done in the space were led by Kylie Hewson, Sam Abrahams, Jane Heller, James Gilkerson and Samantha Ellis. Please contact amr@aff.gov.au for more information.

World AMR Awareness Week 2023 (WAAW)

World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week runs from 18 – 24 November as an annual global campaign to raise awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance. The 2023 theme will remain ‘Preventing antimicrobial resistance together’, as in 2022. AMR affects us all, and is a threat to humans, animals, plants, and the environment.

(Image: WHO)

Highlighting this One Health interdependence, this year’s theme calls for cross-sectoral collaboration to preserve the efficacy of these important products. To curb AMR effectively, all sectors must use antimicrobials prudently and adopt other preventive measures. This will help save millions of lives, preserve antimicrobials for generations to come and help secure the future from drug-resistant pathogens.

Australian animal industries are one of the lowest users of antimicrobials in the world, and testing for AMR in some of our major livestock and seafood industries has shown there is little to no resistance to antimicrobials. The continued efforts of our animal industries and government means that the risk of AMR remains low, and we can ensure the health and welfare of our animals are maintained. Working together really is the key to preventing AMR, and I encourage the veterinary profession to work collaboratively with clients, pet owners, livestock producers, and all others involved in the care of animals, to champion AMS and minimise the threat of resistance.

Good news and resources

The AMR Vet Collective website has resources on best-practice use of antimicrobials in animals. It was developed to translate the science behind AMR into easily accessible, practical resources that veterinarians can use to better inform their prescribing decisions. The AMR Vet Collective website includes examples of AMR in animals, as well as prescribing support for veterinarians through decision trees and guidelines, and the VetAMS online learning program.

The VetAMS online learning program provides educational materials which prepare participants to become leaders in veterinary antimicrobial stewardship. This program not only provides information to assist in prudent antimicrobial use, but veterinarians can earn Continuing Professional Development points for every completed module. The nine scenario-centred interactive modules of the course were released in 2021 and are available on the www.vetams.org website. An additional poultry-specific module was released in 2022, and more industry-specific modules are in development. I encourage everyone to participate in this excellent learning resource.

Agriculture Victoria has created a playlist of YouTube videos covering background to antimicrobials, antimicrobial use in the dairy industry, extended presentations on the role of vets, One Health and zoonoses, animal health and international trade, emerging diseases, and emergency responses. The National Centre for Antimicrobial Stewardship promotes the rational use of antimicrobial drugs throughout Australia. They’ve some fantastic resources for veterinarians as their focus is on providing education to build capacity in antimicrobial stewardship.

Closing remarks

During my 12 years as Australian Chief Veterinary Officer there have been considerable changes in the animal health and biosecurity landscape. As we recognise World Antimicrobial Awareness Week this year, I want to thank you for continuing to do your part in preventing AMR, practising good antimicrobial stewardship and again highlighting the importance of addressing this issue from a One Health perspective. I hope you continue to address this global threat to humans and animal health. Together we can all make a difference to combat antimicrobial resistance.

For the latest updates on the work of the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer, please follow my social media channels on LinkedIn and Twitter. Please also follow the work of the Acting Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Beth Cookson, on her social media channels on LinkedIn and Twitter.