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CSE outlines agenda to address antimicrobial resistance (AMR) crisis

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As the WHO’s World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) 2021 kicked off globally with campaigns in many countries, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has offered a blueprint for rethinking the antimicrobial resistance (AMR) agenda for low and middle income countries. CSE is unveiling this blueprint through a series of international webinars that it has planned through the week, beginning with the first of the online discussions today.

“We are living in unprecedented times. In all this disruption, we must focus on another pandemic – not so obvious today – but one that threatens our health systems in ways that we cannot even imagine. This silent pandemic of AMR is as catastrophic as COVID-19 or climate change,” said Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, here today, while giving the opening remarks in the webinar on ‘AMR – the Development Agenda’.  

“We know that COVID-19 and AMR are the result of our dystopian relationship with nature; It is about the way we grow our food; manage our environment,” she added.

Says Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins programme, CSE: “Antibiotics (antimicrobials) are increasingly becoming ineffective in treating common ailments and infections. Treatment options are reducing. Those considered as last resort are also failing – all because of antibiotic resistance due to overuse and misuse of these medicines.”

CSE presented a disturbing picture of the economic fallouts of drug-resistant infections: by 2050, the world stands to lose almost 4 per cent of its annual GDP to it. Livestock production in low income countries might dip by 11 per cent 2050, and an additional 24 million people might be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030. Warns Khurana: “AMR can derail attainment of several Sustainable Development Goals, especially those linked with food.”

The development agenda

The series of webinars that CSE is organising to mark the Week began with today’s discussion, which focussed on the ‘development agenda’ — ways to ensure that the world can continue to increase food production without depending on chemicals. Anchored by Sunita Narain, the webinar brought together speakers like T Nand Kumar, former secretary, Union Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India; Meenesh Shah, chairperson, National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), India; Stefano Prato, managing director, Society for International Development, Italy; and Amit Khurana of CSE.

Setting the tone for the discussions, Khurana said: “AMR is essentially fuelled by the manner in which antibiotics are misused and overused in intensive food animal systems. Such systems negatively impact the health of humans and animals, livelihoods, environment and climate. They are not sustainable. The world will have to find sustainable ways to produce food. We need to produce more food with less chemicals, less resources. The food systems must be transformed.”

T Nanda Kumar advocated a transformation in agricultural systems: “At some point in time, Green Revolution was a necessity. Probably we didn’t change our policy when we should have. The solution is rewriting the agriculture system in the country to a sustainable food system based agriculture policy,” he said.

“We need to create local loops for procurement and distribution, have a decentralised procurement system, shift financial incentives to those who do least harm to natural resource systems or renew them. We also need to involve communities at the Panchayat level or FPOs or cooperatives to reduce pesticide use and have a more restricted, controlled and monitored use of all chemicals in agriculture,” Kumar added.

Meenesh Shah focused on ethno-veterinary medicines (EVMs); according to him, “EVMs provide an instant management option to dairy farmers who are out of reach of veterinary systems. It has helped reduce antibiotic use for treatment of mastitis and also antibiotic residues in milk.”

As part of its Mastitis Control Popularization Project, informed Shah, the NDDB has popularised the concept of EVM to various cooperative milk unions and producer companies. It is operating in more than nine states in India today, in over 1,500 villages; more than 1,100 veterinarians and 7,500 local resource persons have been trained on EVM and its applications.

In addition, the NDDB has also developed a web portal rapid and easy reporting and data management. It is also providing financial and technical support to establish EVM production plants. There are focused efforts on extension to create farmer awareness and extension materials like brochures, videos are available in different languages

Stefano Prato opined that the world was producing enough food already. “We should reject the grand narrative of the need to feed the world and need to scale up production — there is enough food produced. We also need to challenge the notion that pushing productivism to higher levels can only happen through industrial systems. Small and medium practices are actually more productive than large scale. Measures of productivity are biased to capture large scale productivities of industrial farming,” said Prato.

In her concluding remarks, Narain said: “The question that we must ask here is how can we grow food without harming people? Low and middle income countries cannot afford antibiotic resistance. We cannot first pollute and then spend huge amounts of money to clean up. We have to do things differently, walk the paths that others have not taken yet – leapfrog and reinvent pathways for growth without pollution.”

“It is clear that food systems and development are strongly linked. Food systems have to be sustainable. They should help maintain our health, livelihood of farmers and the health of environment. Chemical-dependent intensive systems jeopardise true development,” she added.

 On November 24, a third webinar titled ‘AMR – the environmental and prevention agenda’ will concentrate on management of waste from food systems, pharmaceutical manufacturing and human health systems, as well as prevention of pollution and stopping over use of chemicals.

(Pratyusha Mukherjee)

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