Since the inadvertent discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928, we have had the privilege of living through the Golden Age of antibiotics. Antibiotics were understandably considered ‘miracle drugs,’ and more than proved their capability to treat diseases which, just years before, had been responsible for millions of deaths worldwide.1

Now, in the 21st century, we are starting to learn the hard way that there can be too much of a good thing. Due to improper use, over-prescribing and a lack of understanding, our beloved antibiotics are losing their potency. Microorganisms are evolving resistance faster than we can develop and market new drugs and this accelerating resistance should be placed front and centre of our global health concerns.

The crisis is so pressing that some experts have warned that if patterns continue as they do, we would be plunged back into the “dark ages of medicine,”2 where minor ailments, such as a scratch or an ear infection, could escalate into life-threatening conditions. A panel led by economist Jim O’Neil looked at the rising prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria and predicted that by 2050, more deaths would be caused by drug-resistant infections than by cancer; equating to an estimated 10 million deaths each year.3

But it’s not just rising death rates that are cause for concern. We have become so accustomed to effective medicines, that the growing risk of superbugs is too removed from public perception. To bring the problem into the public’s focus, we need to look towards educating from the bottom-up to raise awareness about our collective responsibility to use antibiotics properly, rather than relying on an overstretched NHS and overworked doctors.

There is a current gap in the UK for communications campaigns that directly address this public misperception through education on safe practices when using antimicrobial agents. It was touched upon in a TV advert campaign, launched in October 2017 from Public Health England, titled ‘Keep Antibiotics Working,’ which highlighted the need for patients to adhere to their individual antibiotic treatment plans. With 1.2 million views on social media and 49% of consumers in the North West aware of the campaign,4 we can certainly see a way for this to be built on in order to drive home the message of the global threat of antimicrobial resistance, and educate about steps that can be taken in everyday practice to minimise the risk of contributing to antibiotic resistance. Indeed, we look forward to seeing the wider impact on public perception following today’s launch of the next stage of this campaign.

It goes without saying that advancements in pharmaceutical research are paramount to addressing the problem of antimicrobial resistance. However, while researchers race to develop alternative microorganism-targeting treatments, communications campaigns that build on the message started by Public Health England are essential to run in tandem with these efforts, so we can minimise the rate of antimicrobial resistance, while we still have some drugs that are effective.

Juliet Kitson is a Programme Executive at Madano, a fully integrated communications consultancy that specialises in advising clients in sectors (healthcare; energy; technology; investment, development and regeneration) where communications are critical to success. Find out more about us here.

References
  1. Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Control of Infectious Diseases. CDC. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4829a1.htm. Accessed October 2018.
  2. Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations. Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Available from: https://amr-review.org/sites/… Accessed October 2018.
  3. Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally: Final Report and Recommendations. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Available from: https://amr-review.org/sites/default/files/160525_Final%20paper_with%20cover.pdf. Accessed October 2018.
  4. Keep Antibiotics Working – A Social Media and TV Campaign. Public Health England. Available from: https://www.nwcpwd.nhs.uk/attachments/article/218/. Accessed October 2018.
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