Covid-19: Health experts express concern over pandemic-led increase to antimicrobial resistance

The WHO has branded antimicrobial resistance a global health and development threat and called for urgent multisectoral action. (Representative image)

Covid-19 has led to a higher antimicrobial resistance with the pandemic impacting antimicrobial stewardship and pushing back years of work to control it, scientists said at a webinar organised by Tata Institute for Genetics and Society.

Tata Institute for Genetics and Society Director Dr Rakesh Mishra cautioned that the pandemic didn’t mean other problems had disappeared. He warned that antimicrobial resistance was, in all likelihood, a silent tsunami building up that could lead to a bad situation in the not-too-distant future.

Mishra said while healthcare settings for humans was one source of misuse, livestock, poultry, and fisheries were a major source of misuse or overuse of antibiotics.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antimicrobial resistance occurs when viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites change and no longer respond to medicines. This makes infections harder to treat and increases the risk of severe illness and even death.

Former Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General NK Ganguly said a major problem for India was the lack of knowhow or wherewithal to tackle antimicrobial resistance. He also highlighted the lack of fund allocation for such expensive research.

Ganguly added chemical companies, active pharmaceutical ingredient-manufacturing companies, and hospital liquid waste contributed to antimicrobial resistance.

Dr GM Varghese, head of CMC Vellore’s Department of Infectious Diseases, pointed to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics during Covid-19. He said a meta-analysis had shown that 75% of patients admitted in hospitals with Covid-19 were administered antibiotics despite only 8% being diagnosed with a bacterial coinfection.

ICMR National Institute of Pathology’s Dr Ruchi Singh suggested correctly determining if an infection was bacterial or viral was one way to curtail the overuse of antibiotics. At present, infections are not diagnosed properly, she added.

The WHO has branded antimicrobial resistance a global health and development threat and called for urgent multisectoral action. The international public health agency has declared antimicrobial resistance among the top 10 public health threats.

It has also highlighted the significant cost of antimicrobial resistance to the economy. Death and disability apart, prolonged illness led to longer stay in hospitals, expensive medicines, and financial hardship.

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