How Antibiotics Are Finding Their Way Onto Your Diner Table

AS the world is grappling with emerging novel public health threats and natural disasters, lurking in the dark is an even more lethal and irreversible health challenge, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), a catastrophe which could wipe out an entire civalisation if something is not done NOW.

By Michael Gwarisa

According to the World Health Oragnisation (WHO), by the year 2050, the world will be faced with a catastrophe of double proportions and will be losing about 10 million people yearly at a huge cost.  A number of strides have been made in Zimbabwe towards capacitating animal, environmental and human health experts and institutions to deal with the rising scourge of AMR in the country. This year alone, through funding from the UK Government’s Fleming Fund, a grant to the tune of £ 4 Million, the country is set to develop the country’s capacity to manage and combat AMR. The country is also expecting funding of not less than US$1 Million from the Multi-Partner Trust Fund to manage AMR.

Zimbabwe has also developed a One Health approach through its five year long (2017-2022) National Action Plan on AMR with an objective of addressing issues around infection control, laboratory surveillance and research. Even though the future looks bright in terms of financing the battle against AMR in the country, more awareness still needs to be done to ensure pharmaceutical companies, health institutions, medical and health experts and the generality of citizens are aware of the dangers associated antibiotics.

The most worrying trend according to AMR experts is the increased presence of antibiotics in the environment as well as the meat, water and foods that we consume on a daily basis. Antibiotics use in agriculture has emerged as one of the biggest contributor to the antibiotics resistance or drug resistance in human health.

In an interview with HealthTimes, Dr Tinashe Hodobo the Animal health AMR Focal Person said most farmers especially livestock producers were not adhering to the withdrawal period (the period between the day after the last day of treating an animal up to the time you slaughter an animal for sale of consumption), a situation which is resulting in humans consuming foods laden with harmful antimicrobials which could make it difficult for humans to respond to certain medications in the future.

From a food safety perspective, we produce food for human consumption. Animal based products like meat, your beef your chicken and everything else. All this is being produced from live animals that through their production life and also in some instances where it is necessary, Antimicrobials are used for treatment of conditions in those animals.

“Withdrawal periods, this is where give the drug to an animal, after the last day of treatment, you need to respect a certain time period before those animals can be slaughtered of which if you don’t, you are going to slaughter an animal which still contains those residues of antimicrobials and they are going to be at your dinner table and you are going to consume those antimicrobials,,” said Dr Hodobo.

He added that it was also possible to consume some super bugs which come with the foods and the possibility of them being internalized inside a human body is high, hence the need to adhere to proper food preparations procedures.

“The reverse process also happens, we have hospitals where people are sick and there is effluent that is coming from all those places and getting into the environment. The environment is the biggest receiver of the bugs because that is where the bugs are sitting and when we expose these bugs to antimicrobials, we promote the emergence resistance strains.

“Suppose we have these pathogens and antimicrobials that are coming from the hospital set-up, where does this effluent go. In most cases what i have noticed is that the period of treatment lapses while you are still following your course and an amount of medications say Amoxicillin remains in the bottle. Usually this medication is thrown away in the bin or sink causing organisms to develop some resistance to medications overtime.”

He said super bugs where super intelligent organisms and they collaborate in their efforts hence the need for government and partners to collaborate in the fight against AMR. 

“The reason why we are working as One Health is because AMR is a very complex problem where working in Silos is not going to help to defeat this problem that’s why we need to work together. It is exemplified in what is happening at a global level where we find the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) working together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), working tighter with OIE and this is what we are doing with line ministries and that is what is on paper according to our national action plan where we use a one health approach.”

Meanwhile, Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Zimbabwe AMR Focal Person Kululeko Dube said people were ignorantly ingesting antibiotics used in animal and crop health and due to misuse of antibiotics in animal and crop health, the problem of AMR was on the rise.

“Pathogens know no boundary;  a pathogen is a pathogen. A pathogen in crops is the same pathogen in animals, it’s the same pathogen in humans. When we look in terms of the medicines which we are calling Antimicrobials, they all sometimes have same active ingredients or they come from the same family of the medicines themselves.

“You would find that what only varies is the level of which the molecules is used in each sector but the molecule is just the same. Thus, an abuse of that molecule in the crop health can easily transition to a problem in animal health, let alone a problem in animal health can transition into a problem in human health through the food that we ingest from the crops and animals,” said Dube.



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