WOAH calls for continued vigilance amidst rise of antimicrobial use in animals

Progress has showed signs of slowing down
calendar icon 8 May 2024
clock icon 3 minute read

Progress towards optimal antimicrobial use shows signs of slowing down in the animal health sector, according to a new report published by the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH). 

Latest data reveals a concerning 2% increase in antimicrobial use in animals at global level between 2019 and 2021, after several consecutive years of significant decrease. The data is part of the latest report on antimicrobial use in animals released today at the 9th Meeting of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (GLG on AMR) held in Sweden.

"The need for urgent action has never been more evident," said Jakob Forssmed, GLG member and minister for social affairs and public health, Sweden. "Robust surveillance systems are critical to support informed decision-making that will enable the implementation of cost-effective AMR interventions under a One Health approach."

Antimicrobials are critical medicines whose effectiveness must be preserved for the treatment, control and, where appropriate, for the prevention of infectious diseases in animals, humans and plants. Resistance to these medicines has become a major concern, as it endangers everyone’s health. Economic reports already project a potential loss of 1.8 years of life expectancy worldwide by 2035 due to AMR.

Although AMR is a natural phenomenon, it can be greatly accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials across sectors. Efficient monitoring systems are essential to inform decisions targeting the responsible use of antimicrobials.

Since 2015, WOAH has been monitoring the use of antimicrobials in animals, as a key component of its strategy to limit the emergence of AMR. ANIMUSE, the global database on ANImal antiMicrobial USE, facilitates access to this crucial and growing set of information. This initiative has contributed to triple the number of countries with a surveillance system in place over the last decade.

Today, the Organisation released the latest groundbreaking data, highlighting both progress and challenges in the global fight against AMR in the animal health sector.

"The animal health sector plays a pivotal role in the efforts to curb AMR by promoting a more responsible use of antimicrobials," said Monique Eliot, WOAH director general. "Therefore, it has to be adequately supported to help accelerate the response to this still growing threat."

Among the four key actions identified to effectively address AMR in animals, preventive measures should be prioritised. When available, vaccines can be robust allies to prevent diseases that could otherwise lead to the use of antimicrobials. Yet only six cents for every 10 USD were allocated to R&D in animal health vaccines from 2017 to 2024, highlighting the need to enhance research, development and implementation of innovative tools in animal health.

A focus on the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion

Growth promotion means using antimicrobials in healthy animals to boost productivity. While significant progress has been made in phasing out this practice, data showcases that it is still reported by almost 20% of WOAH’s Members. More worryingly, at least 11% still use one or more of the highest priority critically important antimicrobials for human medicine, such as colistin, as growth promoters.

WOAH continues to encourage its Members to restrict the use of antimicrobials solely to veterinary medical use and to actively engage in dialogue with the concerned parties to achieve a total ban on the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters, starting with those that are critically important for human health.

In light of the recent data, collective efforts must be redoubled to safeguard the health and well-being of current and future generations by preserving the efficacy of antimicrobials. Everyone’s health is at stake.

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