Dr Manica Balasegaram, GARDP Executive Director, spoke at the opening of BIOCOM’s 4th AMR Conference on the importance of learning lessons from COVID-19 to prepare for the next global health emergency. The below statement is a summary of his presentation.
As COVID-19 has swept across the world, we have seen first-hand how a disease outbreak without the tools to halt and treat it can disrupt health systems, economies and threaten vulnerable populations. This has in turn led many governments to wake up to the importance of pandemic preparedness.
And while it is coronavirus currently dominating headlines, the increasing resistance by bacteria to antibiotics is a slow-moving pandemic that also requires urgent attention. Drug resistance already claims 700,000 lives every year, and this toll is projected to increase exponentially without action.
Those involved in the fight against drug-resistant infections must step up efforts to ensure antibiotic resistance is prioritized as foremost a health security challenge, while persuading policymakers that the best way to meet this challenge is through public-health centered strategies and approaches.
This includes greater investment in antibiotic research and development, both as a tool to control novel disease outbreaks, but also to treat known pathogens developing resistance to currently available treatments.
Beyond the need for a robust antibiotics pipeline, COVID-19 has focused attention on the critical role of collaboration and access in dealing with pandemics. There are lessons to be learned here as we confront drug resistance. To begin with, it is clear no one sector alone can deliver the required lifesaving antibiotics. Public-private partnerships are needed that harness the best available experience, insights and innovation of different players. These partnerships should in turn be backed by pooled funding, with frameworks in place that ensure equitable access to new treatments. At the same time, we must work to strengthening hospital capacity and infection prevention and control measures, while improving surveillance and testing.
GARDP is working to address the challenge of drug-resistance through its 5 by 25 goal. This seeks to deliver five new treatments by 2025 for drug-resistant infections that pose the greatest threat to global health and economic security. Through partnerships, we are developing new treatments in late-stage clinical development for sexually transmitted infections, sepsis in newborns and infections in hospitalized adults and children.
An important focus of the 5 by 25 campaign is ensuring every person who needs these new treatments can access them, no matter where they live. This can be done through three important levers: Supporting registration and availability in a wide range of countries, particularly low- and middle-income countries; ensuring sufficient evidence is generated to support appropriate use; and facilitating availability through pooled demand and procurement.
We must learn the lessons of this current pandemic to prepare ourselves for the next one. By acting now, collectively and with urgency, we can avert the unfolding global crisis of drug-resistance, protecting our health today and for generations to come.