Stories from the frontlines of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) during Covid-19

Between July and November 2020, we reached out to people living with and who have experienced drug-resistant infections to better understand how the Covid-19 pandemic is shaping their lives. We spoke to medical professionals, doctors and pharmacists, to capture their perspectives too. Combined, the stories shared in our new report – AMR Voices – provide a first-hand look at how the antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and Covid-19 agendas meet. With stories from the UK, US, South Africa, and India, we have captured what people living with resistant infections – and those who have overcome them – think needs to change when it comes to acting on this “slow-moving” pandemic.

Long before Covid-19 hit, AMR was escalating and upending the lives of thousands of people each year. Did you know that 700,000 deaths each year can currently be attributed to AMR globally? This is a number that continues to shock me, even as we become accustomed to how Covid-19 infections and death numbers climb with each day that passes. But, what’s essential to remember is that behind these figures there are the real stories of individuals and families. All too often, the first-person experience is missing or obscured from reports and articles on AMR.

“We want to challenge this approach and put a human face on the challenges of drug-resistance front and centre.”
Ruth Neale, Project Manager, Longitude Prize

Published on 24th November, just as World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2020 draws to a close for another year, we want to challenge this approach and put a human face on the challenges of drug-resistance front and centre. By connecting the patient and professional stories of AMR to the Covid-19 experience, we hope to inspire decision-makers of all stripes to recognise the reverberating impacts of the pandemic and to take impact action to combat AMR at the scale and speed required.

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Since we started our global outreach, a number of salient reports have come out about how Covid-19 treatments are exacerbating the rise of AMR and international bodies like the WHO and other scientists have ramped up their warnings about the overuse and misuse of antibiotics at this time. It seems the writing is already on the wall: a recent study in Nature (read the full study titled ‘Antimicrobial stewardship and COVID-19) shows that, according to NHS dental prescription forms, the number of antibiotics dispensed by community pharmacists in England in May 2020 was 18.4% higher than in May 2019.

Now, more than ever, a multi-pronged strategy is required to respond to AMR. To improve both the short-term and long-term management and stewardship of antibiotics, we must continue to drive awareness of the risks, shift behaviours around taking antibiotics when they may not be needed, and we have to accelerate the development of rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tests to enable better stewardship of medicines. Even at this time of Covid-19, we must encourage best practices across the board, from frontline health workers to policymakers, and slow the spread of infections.

Ultimately, we hope that the heartfelt insights shared in AMR Voices will move governments, businesses, innovators, and communities alike to mobilise, to act on AMR and drive real change. A salient message from each and every one of the contributors is that AMR awareness getting lost in the Covid-19 response. Now is an opportunity to change that. We simply can’t afford another pandemic – or another “new normal”.

Ruth Neale is a Project Manager at Longitude Prize. This article first appeared in the Longitude Prize Blog.

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