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Diary of a parliamentary intern
  1. Anthony Ridge

Abstract

Parliamentary intern Anthony Ridge considers antimicrobial resistance and suspects that this year will be a major year for political decisions on this topic.

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Looking out my office window, I am often greeted by the sight of reporters and camera crews lined up on the lawn overlooking Westminster Palace signifying the latest political development. Often the reporters are talking about social, financial or political matters and it is rare for topics concerning animal health to be the focus of their attention. However, I suspect that this is set to change.

Globalisation combined with ongoing improvements in surveillance will no doubt lead to more recognition of emerging threats to animal health and these are particularly likely to be recognised and reported on when they also present a threat to human health and wellbeing. One major example of this is the ongoing global spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The possibility that we could soon be cast into a ‘post-antibiotic era’ has brought this topic firmly into the limelight at national and international levels and as part of my internship I am endeavouring to provide a useful contribution to this issue.

For the past few months I have been collating information from a variety of national and international reports in order to assemble a fact file of information on antimicrobial usage and resistance levels in the UK (for both humans and animals). In recent weeks my research has been helped along by attending an AMR summit at Defra and spending an afternoon visiting the staff at the National Office of Animal Health. I have enjoyed the chance to get my teeth into this issue and have found that the more I look into it, the more complex the picture becomes. Available data are often limited and it can be difficult to create meaningful comparisons between animal and human usage and resistance levels.

There is also limited information on the evidence for transfer of resistance between animals and humans (and vice versa) and, while there are now some interesting genetic studies that help to address this question, they tend to apply to individual drug-bug combinations that are difficult to extrapolate more broadly. Nonetheless, vets are under increasing pressure to restrict their usage of antimicrobials in an attempt to slow the development of resistance in humans. The fact file is not intended to add new information or opinions on this frequently controversial and divisive topic, but is intended to provide a balanced summary of the available facts. I am hoping that it will help politicians, medics, vets and the media to form evidence-based opinions on where problems lie and how best to address them.

This year we are likely to see major developments in the battle against AMR. The Government review of AMR chaired by Lord O'Neill is soon to publish its final report and will probably include a recommendation for a global reduction target for antimicrobial usage in animals. This recommendation is likely to be taken to international meetings, including the G20 summit in China. The way in which such a reduction is implemented could have major implications for animal health and welfare. For example, draft EU veterinary medicines regulations (currently being scrutinised by a House of Lords committee on which Lord Trees sits) include the provision to ban veterinary usage of certain antimicrobials in an attempt to protect human health. Whether or not we decide to remain in the EU, such decisions are likely to impact on UK policy and I will be looking on with great interest as the battle to save our antibiotics, for both animals and humans, unfolds over the coming year.

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