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Fighting antimicrobial resistance, a long-term commitment

Antimicrobials are essential for the protection of human and animal health. Thanks to antimicrobials, lives are saved every day and diseases contained; in particular, animal diseases that are foodborne or directly transmissible to humans.

However, the evidence can no longer be ignored: today, the effectiveness of these invaluable tools is at risk. We must act quickly if we are to avoid losing the benefits brought by decades of medical progress in the very near future. Only the demonstration of long-term political commitment by all, and a coordinated, multi-sectoral effort to establish national control plans for antimicrobial resistance, will enable us to reach this goal. The OIE’s new dedicated strategy, published in November 2016, seeks to support this international effort.

Today, the risks associated with the development of antimicrobial resistance, which simultaneously threatens both human and animal health, as well as animal welfare, have been scientifically confirmed.

Numerous scientific studies have documented the increase in treatment failure and human deaths that are directly or indirectly linked to antimicrobial resistance; with some projections providing a figure of tens of thousands of deaths per year. In the area of animal health, few studies exist, but the same trend can easily be assumed.

From an economic perspective, a recent publication from the World Bank notes that, according to the worst-case scenario, resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobials could cause a fall of more than 5% in the gross national product of low-income countries, plunging up to 28 million people into poverty, principally in developing countries.

In addition, at the same time as the effectiveness of existing antimicrobial treatments is being undermined, too few new treatments are being developed by the pharmaceutical industry. Throughout the world, more support must be invested in research to overcome the technical and financial constraints that threaten to leave us without effective treatment in the future, in either human or veterinary medicine.

Nevertheless, in the area of animal health, as in human health, it would be a mistake to envisage simply replacing antimicrobial compounds that have become ineffective with new ones which microbes will adapt to in the future. We must now rethink our methods to ensure their sustainability and enable us to stem the decline in our medical arsenal. Some alternative solutions have already been identified, such as further improvements in animal husbandry practices, greater use of vaccines, and the systematic introduction of improved diagnostic methods for better targeting of treatment. Others will have to be developed or improved even more.

This change of practice towards a more responsible and prudent use of antimicrobials, in addition to developing alternative solutions, can draw on current knowledge and existing tools, some of the most important of which are the OIE international standards.

Today, such questions are no longer only technical but also political and strategic. How do we modify practices in the long term, avoiding both unacceptable solutions and ‘quick fixes’? How can we help countries and production sectors to evolve without economic or social risk, and while still taking individual cases into account?

The new OIE strategy on antimicrobial resistance suggests several tools to support Member Countries as they implement these changes, which – if they are to be effective – should be based on:

  • national action plans, adapted to local conditions and sector constraints through the comprehensive and harmonised collection of usage data
  • a systematic, coordinated and multi-sectoral approach, based on public–private partnerships
  • structural and sustainable action, through investment in health systems and within a legal framework adapted to more effectively control usage and minimise counterfeits and illegal markets
  • and, finally, a strong educational campaign to ensure buy-in and cooperation from all stakeholders.

A huge amount has already been achieved at the international level, as evidenced by the agreement signed at the high-level meeting organised at the last United Nations General Assembly.

But there is still much work to be done before we see tangible results and can protect the future of generations yet to come.

I trust in the commitment of OIE Member Countries to continue these efforts and to take all necessary measures against antimicrobial resistance.

We all bear a part of the responsibility for the development of antimicrobial resistance. If, by working together, we manage to contain this threat, we will all share in the success.

Monique Éloit

Director General


  • The common goal: to promote prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials and to combat antimicrobial resistance.
  • The methodology: to translate Global Action Plan into national action plans tailored to local situations, with the required technical and financial support for a phased implementation.
  • The need: strong political will over the long term.