If it feels like you’re hearing about antimicrobial resistance more often these days, that’s because it is a growing problem that threatens to get worse if nothing is done about it (sounds like climate change). Antimicrobial resistance refers to the fact that bacteria are becoming immune to drugs, which is causing many life-saving drugs to become useless and leading to an estimated 700,000 deaths each year.
To quell this problem, almost 350 parties showed up to pledge support for the AMR Challenge, a program whose goal is to make countries and corporations get serious about antimicrobial resistance. By the standards of the public policy world, the New York event was an enormous success. Those executives and officials didn’t just state their support, they made surprisingly detailed commitments. And the boldest moves came from a perhaps unlikely source: the business world.
Dozens of hospital networks, both giant and small, pledged to reduce the prescriptions they write in-house, to keep from encouraging resistance. Huge retailers committed to tracking animal antibiotic use; Walmart, for instance, agreed to set guidelines for the suppliers that funnel meat to its more than 5,000 stores. Pharmaceutical manufacturers including Merck, one of the few US-based companies still making antibiotics, laid out a plan to invest more in basic research on new compounds.
On top of that, fifty-five pharma and biotech companies promised to develop better rapid tests, which prevent unnecessary prescriptions, including Accelerate Diagnostics, based in Arizona, which committed a $100 million program. Two manufacturers of veterinary vaccines announced they would educate veterinarians on alternatives to using antibiotics in farm animals.
At a time when global challenges can seem paralyzing in their complexity, the New York convocation offers a ray of hope, an indication of how worldwide alliances can, in fact, take root.