Zambia breaks new grounds in tackling antimicrobial resistance

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A new platform that enables data-driven decision-making to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been launched in Zambia.

According to the WHO, antimicrobial resistance — the phenomenon by which medicines become less effective against microbes such as HIV— is a global public threat, and negatively impacts healthcare, food safety, nutrition security and livelihoods.

The platform called Zambia One Health Surveillance System was launched by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and the Zambia National Public Health Institute at the sidelines of an international workshop on effective implementation of a national action plan on antimicrobial resistance last month (22–24 January) in Zambia.

“It is a major milestone in the country’s efforts to harmonise and harness surveillance data.”

Victor Mukonka, Zambia National Public Health Institute said.

It joins a slew of similar initiatives launched across the world as governments try to get to grips with the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance, which the WHO fears could lead to over 10 million deaths per year by 2050.

“Surveillance information from in Zambia clearly shows increasing trends in AMR. However, the true burden and impact of AMR remain unknown not only in Zambia but Africa as a whole,” says Victor Mukonka, director of Zambia National Public Health Institute.

Mukonka adds that antimicrobial resistance surveillance has been hampered by the lack of reliable data because of the absence of a unified data management system that provides an integrated way of collecting information from different sectors including health and agriculture.

“It is a major milestone in the country’s efforts to harmonise and harness surveillance data by creating a digital Zambia One Health Surveillance System — the first time that AMR-related data will be systematically available for analysis from the human and animal sectors to the national antimicrobial resistance coordination committee,” says a statement released during the workshop.

The platform has data from national laboratory information systems that target both human and animal health.

Prior to the launch, Zambia lacked a systematic approach towards the collection, collation and analysis of drug resistance data for effective response to disease threats, Mukonka explains.

“It is for this reason that we were happy to partner with FIND to put in place this interoperable one health data management system that is simple, flexible and efficient that will help capture reliable data which is critical in informing how we as a country can carry out actionable steps in addressing the growing threat of AMR,” Mukonka says.

Mukonka adds that the country has identified microorganisms including HIV and malaria parasites which have developed resistance to medicines.

Catharina Boehme, chief executive officer of FIND, tells SciDev.Net that effective use of data at local, regional and global levels is key to tackling drug resistance.

“This platform will enable improved, automated surveillance that can inform decision-making and enable proactive responses to AMR-related threats at a local level in Zambia,” Boehme adds.

Ntombi Mudenda, chairperson of the Veterinary Association of Zambia and a lecturer at the Department of Clinical Studies, University of Zambia, says that the platform is a welcome development.

“Like any surveillance tool, it’s only as good as the data put in it. We hope our scientists in all sectors will utilise it to its maximum potential for us to have meaningful information for good policy formulation.” Mudenda explains.

Mukonka says that he expects information collected across sectors will guide the revision or development of treatment guidelines, answer research questions and guide the research agenda in Zambia and Sub-Saharan Africa in relation to antimicrobial resistance.

Africh Royale

Africh Royale

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