Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and Beyond (2020 AMR Strategy)
On 13 March 2020, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the 2020 AMR Strategy. Building on Australia’s First National AMR Strategy 2015-2019, the 2020 Strategy sets a 20-year vision to protect the health of humans, animals and the environment, and continues to align with the World Health Organization’s 2015 Global Action Plan on AMR. The 2020 AMR Strategy represents the expert views and strong collaboration of stakeholders from across governments, and the animal and human health, environment, agricultural and food sectors.
Australia's One Health Master Action Plan (OHMAP) was released in February 2021 and provides guidance on implementing the 2020 Strategy. This will be further supported by detailed sector-specific action plans.
What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses and parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result of AMR, standard medical treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others. Resistance to current antimicrobials is increasing faster than the development of new drugs, and so effective treatments cannot keep pace. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes AMR as a looming crisis in which common and treatable infections will become life threatening.
AMR to some extent is a natural phenomenon. Each time antimicrobials (such as antibiotics) are used, the microorganisms either die or adapt by acquiring resistance. It is clear though that certain human actions accelerate this process of increasing resistance, and the single most powerful contributor to this is the global unrestrained use of antimicrobials. This includes underuse, overuse and misuse, and applies to the use of antimicrobials in human and animal health (food animals and domestic pets) and in agriculture.
Further information on the development of antibiotic resistance is provided in the Occasional Paper Meeting the Threat of Antibiotic Resistance: Building a New Frontline Defence produced by Australia's Office of the Chief Scientist.
What are the implications of AMR?
AMR infections necessitate additional investigations, more complex and expensive treatments, longer hospital stays, and lead to greater mortality. Extended recovery time means that patients remain infectious for longer, increasing the risk of resistant infections spreading to others. Treating resistant infections is also very costly, as more expensive medicines need to be used. Longer hospital stays result in increased healthcare costs for patients and societies.
In animals, AMR infections result in reduced animal health, welfare, biosecurity and production outcomes. AMR infections in animals can result in the transfer of resistant bacteria to people who come into contact with them. AMR infections in animals destined for human consumption also pose a risk of foodborne transmission.
- The AMR Vet Collective was developed to translate the science behind antimicrobial resistance (AMR) into easily accessible, practical resources that veterinarians can use to better inform their prescribing decisions. The AMR Vet Collective website includes examples of AMR in animals, as well as prescribing support for veterinarians through decision trees and guidelines, and an online learning program.
- The VetAMS online learning program provides educational materials which prepare participants to become leaders in veterinary antimicrobial stewardship. This program not only provides information to assist in prudent antimicrobial use, but veterinarians can earn Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points for every completed module, which is a registration requirement designed to ensure veterinarians maintain their skills and knowledge to provide the best possible service.
- The 9 scenario-centred interactive modules of the course were released in 2021 and are available on the www.vetams.org website. An additional poultry-specific module was released in 2022, and more industry-specific modules are in development.
Australia’s Animal Sector Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan
- Australian animal sector stakeholders agreed to provide strategic, national and coordinated support to the ‘Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and Beyond’ through an industry specific antimicrobial resistance (AMR) action plan.
- Developed by the animal sector for the animal sector, this plan includes a number of priority activities that stem from the One Health Master Action Plan and builds on the animal sector’s already extensive work to address AMR.
- Consultation with key stakeholder groups has been undertaken. However, to ensure that this action plan is fit-for-purpose and practical, the draft action plan will be going out for wider consultation on the Department’s Have Your Say platform. We welcome feedback on this plan from all members of the animal sector. For more information, go to Have Your Say - Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and keep an eye out for the draft plan.
Understanding antimicrobial prescribing behaviour in the veterinary industry
- There are many reasons why veterinarians may prescribe antimicrobials and understanding these decisions helps to plan antimicrobial stewardship initiatives that target the main difficulties veterinarians face. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has contracted the University of Melbourne to survey the prescribing decisions and attitudes of veterinarians and the expectations of their clients.
- The results from the survey will inform the development of communication and educational material that can aid vets in their decisions and encourage behavioural change.
Good news in AMR surveillance
- Over the last few years, the department has worked with some of our major livestock industries to assess the levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in animals.
- Pork, chicken meat and egg, barramundi and salmon industries have all taken part in surveillance studies over the last few years to assess the levels of AMR in each of their industries. Pleasingly, all studies showed that the level of AMR was either low or negligible against antimicrobials of human importance. These results are encouraging and showed that our animal industries provide little risk to AMR.
- The Australian livestock industries have a good reputation for demonstrating sound antimicrobial stewardship practices and ensuring the health and welfare of their animals is paramount. These surveys show that the good work being done by our farming sectors is resulting in positive outcomes—for the industry, for consumers and for the wider community. Reports for completed surveys are available on the websites of the participating industry peak bodies. There is always more that can be done, and our industries continue to lead the way.