OECD Forum 2019 Session: Drug-Resistant Infections & Vaccines

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May 21, 2019
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This OECD Forum 2019 background note will be used to prepare speakers on the panel Drug-Resistant Infections & Vaccines, taking place at the OECD headquarters from 15:45-17:00 on Tuesday, 21 May. Join the Forum Network to comment and help inform the upcoming debate and, whether you're with us in Paris or watching online, let us know what you think of the session!


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is growing, with the potential for enormous health, social and economic consequences, globally. The overuse of antimicrobial drugs in humans and animals is fueling resistant pathogens, making routine hospital procedures like knee-replacement surgery and childbirth far riskier than they are today. Predictions are that AMR could kill 10 million people annually by 2050, unless prompt and effective action is taken. Drug-resistant infections already claim 700,000 lives a year, including 230,000 deaths from drug-resistant tuberculosis according to a recent United Nations report. 

Overuse of antibiotics is accelerating a crisis that is poorly understood, and policy makers are worried about the lack of political momentum to take effective action, despite the significant impact on healthcare systems and the economy, as well as the human toll. 

In a survey by the UN, 39 of 146 nations were unable to provide data on the use of antimicrobials in animals, which experts say is a major driver of resistance in humans as resistant bacteria are transferred to people through contaminated food and water. 

AMR is also spreading due to the lack of clean water and inadequate sewage systems that sicken millions of people in the developing world. Many of them are too poor to see a doctor and instead buy cheap antibiotics from street vendors with little medical expertise. 

Recently, countries have scaled up efforts to implement action to prevent the development of new resistant strains and to control the spread of infections, including vaccination strategies. Yet in our “post-truth” environment, vaccines are increasingly subject to polemics and public anxiety. 

Only a minority of countries have identified specific funding sources to implement national action plans to tackle AMR and defined a monitoring and evaluation process. Investments in public health actions to tackle AMR are still insufficient. 

Promoting better hygiene in healthcare services, ending the over-prescription of antibiotics, rapid testing for patients to determine whether they have bacterial or viral infections, delayed antibiotic prescriptions and mass media campaigns are all effective and cost-effective interventions to tackle AMR. 

Investing in these policies would save thousands of lives and money in the long run. Many interventions to promote prudent use of antibiotics and enhance hygiene in hospitals would only cost EUR 0.15 to 1.3 per capita per year in many EU/EEA countries. 

Further recommendations include a worldwide ban on the use of medically important antibiotics for promoting growth in farm animals; financial incentives for drug companies to develop new antimicrobial compounds; and more stringent rules to limit the sale of antibiotics in countries where drugs can often be bought at convenience stores without a prescription. Some are also calling on wealthier nations to help poorer countries pay for improvements to public hygiene, and ensure greater access to vaccines and properly manufactured antibiotics. 

  • Why is there such a lack of urgency to address AMR?
  • What is the link between vaccines and AMR?
  • What is your organisation doing to address it?
  • What can the OECD do to ensure more is done?

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Go to the profile of Willemien Bax

Willemien Bax

head OECD Forum, OECD

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