KARACHI: Up to 95 per cent of Pakistani population could be carrying bacteria that makes them resistant to lifesaving antibiotics, said speakers at the inaugural session of annual National Health Sciences Research Symposium (NHSRS) of the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Karachi.

The theme of the 22nd three-day symposium is ‘Antimicrobial resistance: an opportunity to transform global health’.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) happens when microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs. Microorganisms that develop AMR are sometimes referred to as ‘superbugs’. As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.

A recent UN report warned that the threat of AMR can be a global health crisis that could lead to 10 million deaths every year by 2050.

If not managed in a timely manner, AMR may lead to a “health emergency-like situation” that might have implications for Pakistan’s healthcare system as well as economy, they said.

Antibiotics have been a founding stone of modern medicine. Use of antimicrobials has enabled the implementation of novel treatment modalities such as cardiac bypass surgeries, joint replacements and bone marrow transplants. Management of infectious complications would not have been possible without antibiotics. Spread of resistant bugs is now taking us back to the pre-antibiotic era where advance medical interventions may become compromised, said Rumina Hasan, a professor of microbiology at AKU and chair of the 22nd NHSRS organising committee.

Realising that AMR puts the gains of the Millennium Development Goals at risk and jeopardises achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, WHO instituted a global action plan to tackle AMR in the 68th World Health Assembly in 2015, which was endorsed by all countries including Pakistan.

Zafar Mirza, Minister of State for Health, and the chief guest on the occasion, expressed the government’s commitment to work with provinces and public and private key stakeholders on the implementation of the National Action Plan for AMR.

“The misuse and overuse of antimicrobial medicines is fuelling resistance worldwide and the Eastern Mediterranean Region is no exception. Drug-resistant infections are estimated to cause at least 700,000 deaths globally each year,” said Maha Talaat, WHO EMRO regional coordinator for infection prevention and control, and the keynote speaker.

“Although AMR is a global problem, estimates suggest that 89pc of deaths related to AMR in 2050 will occur in Africa and Asia. The UK government has set up the Fleming Fund to provide the much-needed resources to better understand and address AMR,” said Anthony Huszar, South-East Asia regional coordinator, Fleming Fund, and also a keynote speaker.

AKU president Firoz Rasul, deans Adil Haider and David Arthur, and interim CEO of the Aga Khan University Hospital Shagufta Hassan also spoke.

The second and third days of the symposium will cover discussions on animal AMR, antimicrobial use surveillance, food safety, control of antibiotics quality in Pakistan, ‘Ignite’ and several other sessions.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2019