Fight against antimicrobial resistance deepens Minister of Health and Childcare Dr Douglas Mombeshora

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke in Marrakech, Morocco

DRUG resistance in a growing number of diseases requires Government to come up with urgent and effective strategies in the fight against antimicrobial diseases, which continue to pose a challenge in the country’s health systems.

The first global assessment of the burden of antimicrobial diseases revealed that nearly 5 million deaths in 2019 were associated with drug-resistant infections globally.

Zimbabwe, like other countries, has not escaped the negative impact that multidrug-resistant organisms have on health and well-being, food security, environment and economic growth.

Speaking on the sidelines of the second African Health Harm Reduction conference being held in Morocco this week, Health and Child Care Minister Douglas Mombeshora said there was a need for proper surveillance and monitoring of disposal of chemical in the ground as well as the use of antibiotics for food animals as these were some of the leading causes of antimicrobial diseases both in humans and animals.

“We depend on the environment for survival therefore it means the health of the people also depend on the environment. We should be talking about how we mitigate these challenges, be it in food production, pollution that will affect the water, the droughts that are as a result of climate change.

“The main challenge is disease outbreak; we are seeing a rise in resistant microbes and we believe some of them are due to environmental changes. But also some of them could be as a result of pollution to the environment,” he said.

Antimicrobial diseases occur when bacteria, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spreading to others.

The Morocco conference is seeking to address some of these crucial challenges related to water, the environment, and their impact on food and health security in Africa.

Dr Mombeshora said the agriculture sector was using antibiotics in the treatment of animals which humans fed on and this was a challenge in the spread of zoonotic diseases, those infections that can pass from animals to humans and which cause almost 60 percent of human diseases.

“If we under-treat animals by giving them antibiotics, certain bacteria may develop resistance and this is a common phenomenon when you go into our rural areas or farming communities. Very few people give a complete dose of antibiotics so by giving an incomplete dose of antibiotics, we create resistant microbes which become very difficult to treat and those become a burden to our health,” he said.

Dr Mombeshora said it was important to also look into the contamination of water bodies, particularly from chemicals being used in the agriculture sector.

“These chemicals contaminate the environment and the crops that we grow in those fields where there has been contamination by certain chemicals that go on to be eaten by human beings and certain diseases are picked up years later. We need proper surveillance and monitoring on the use of antibiotics on food animals. We also need to monitor disposal of chemicals in the environment because these chemicals if they are not properly disposed may go into the ground and the grass is then fed to cattle so that is how we are looking at pollution of the environment ending up being a disease burden to human beings,” he said.

The Minister said while Zimbabwe had done a lot to address some of these challenges, a lot still needed to be done.

He said there were inseparable linkages between water, sanitation, environment and health and this meant that for one to thrive, the others had to also be available for citizens.

“The purpose of this conference is to look at how Africa can work towards health harm reduction using the resources that they have, be they physical or human resources. We have different challenges as Africa, each country has its own challenges and opportunities,” he said.

He said the Government and the private sector needed to be proactive to be able to reduce the harm posed on humans and animal health by the problem of antimicrobial diseases.

“There are new technologies to look at the genes and trends where you can tell the mutations that are taking place so that you can pick diseases as they are emerging rather than when they are established. However, to set that up, we need more labs to be set in every province or even down to the district. But at this stage we still have just one reference lab which does that and on the research side, we are still lagging behind,” Minister Mombeshora said.

He said it was good that Africa Centres for Disease Control had enabled Africa to have its own lab that monitored such issues and could provide the necessary information for the implementation of homegrown solutions.

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