HUMANS STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND THE ROLE THEY PLAY IN THE BATTLE AGAINST DRUG-RESISTANT BUGS
Although antimicrobial resistance is a major public health threat, many Kenyans have no idea what it is and how they contribute to it.
Unwarranted use of antibiotics, for instance in humans when they use Amoxicillin (meant to treat bacterial infections) to treat viral diseases such as influenza, or in the case of farmers when they use them to promote growth or prevent diseases without a veterinarian’s prescription, has led to the rise of drug-resistant bugs.
To make matters worse, some people self-prescribe, and others do not take the dosage as prescribed, with some going as far as sharing medication, contributing to the current dire situation.
“The government should rigorously regulate how antibiotics are dispensed, their quality and how they are used in the medical and agricultural sectors.
I hope the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) policy will be implemented with these areas in mind because a three-legged stool cannot stand on only two feet,” says Prof Walter Jaoko, the chairman of the Department of Medical Microbiology at the University of Nairobi
An analysis by the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership – Kenya Working Group, indicates high rates of resistance in hospital-acquired infections, respiratory infections and foodborne diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid.
A similar pattern was noted in tests done on animal product samples. For example, about 36 percent of salmonella isolates in pork tissue samples showed resistance to tetracycline, streptomycin ampicillin and chloramphenicol. “Veterinary doctors are aware of the plight that is AMR, but several factors have made it hard to control.
Livestock farmers using antimicrobials as growth enhancers and to prevent infection without prescription is the norm, yet it is not necessary if proper animal hygiene and nutrition are observed,” notes Samantha Opere, a veterinary doctor based at the Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies (KENDAT). “The AMR problem is compounded by unlicensed veterinary officers also offer cheaper services and farmers who report infection cases to extension services when it is already too late to act.
Private practitioners also fail to report antimicrobial resistance to government officials, and only do so in cases of anthrax,” she adds.
Dr Tabitha Kimani, a veterinary doctor and agricultural economist, who works at the Food and Agriculture Organisation as the project coordinator for AMR in East and Central Africa, states that, “Despite the situation analysis conducted as a preliminary to the National Action Plan, there is still insufficient data as there have been no comprehensive surveillance systems. Some of the antimicrobials that humans use share similar molecules to those used in animals, that are shed into the environment and end up affecting agriculture and fisheries sectors.
The bottom line being misuse and overuse in the priority value chain of poultry, dairy and pigs where commercialisation is practised.
Trying to minimise the need for antimicrobials means putting more stringent controls and animal husbandry practices.
It will be a win-win situation in which fewer drugs will be used and production will be optimised, she says. Dr Kimani emphasises the need for concerted efforts to pass information from the national level to the extension services at the county level and farmers in the fight against AMR.
She says that most farmers are not fully aware of the real impact the drug abuse is causing and are mostly concerned when certain drugs fail to work in treating their animals.
Drugs used in animal farming find their way into the human diet through various ways
“In diseases like mastitis, farmers are advised to not milk the cow until three days after treatment but the money factor is put before medical counsel and cows under treatment still get milked and/or slaughtered before the withdrawal period is over,’’ says Dr Opere.
She adds that other aspects such as correct drugs dosages are ignored by farmers, with commonly abused drugs such as oxytetracycline and penicillin-streptomycin (Pen-strep) found in animals that end up being consumed by humans.
“In the future, it would help to ensure agrovets have licensed veterinary doctors, strict regulation of slaughterhouses and administration of rapid diagnostic tests to ensure appropriate antibiotics are administered.
Veterinary and agricultural sectors are the backbone of the economy but they have not been receiving the care they deserve,” adds Dr Opere.
Dr Kimani is also of the opinion that consumers of animal products are not demanding differentiated and antibiotic-free animal products that would, in turn, push the farmers to adhere to standards.
This is, however, something that can be turned around through public awareness campaigns. It is therefore imperative that information on AMR awareness is packaged correctly.