Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in the Environment: SEPA Information Note

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health crisis that silently threatens our well-being. While we often associate the term “AMR” with its impact on human health, its reach extends far beyond. AMR affects not only humans but also animals, plants, and the environment. Recognising the gravity of this issue, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has taken a significant step by releasing an information note on AMR in the environment.

AMR arises when microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites become resistant to the drugs used to treat or prevent infections. This resistance can render our current antimicrobial treatments ineffective. AMR has always existed in nature, but human actions have accelerated its emergence and spread. The misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in humans, animals, and agriculture have created a breeding ground for resistant microbes, putting us at greater risk of diseases that were once manageable.

AMR is not a future problem; it’s a crisis unfolding before our eyes. A UK Government review predicts that by 2050, AMR could claim 10 million lives annually. In 2019 alone, nearly 5 million deaths worldwide were linked to bacterial AMR. This crisis extends beyond human health, threatening animal health, food security, economic development, and equity. In essence, AMR poses a challenge on par with climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, and it’s closely interlinked with them.

The environment plays a crucial role in the spread of AMR, with far-reaching implications for human, animal, and plant health. SEPA’s information note highlights several sectors and activities under its regulation that contribute to the environmental spread of AMR. These include wastewater treatment, healthcare facilities, animal farming, and crop production. Additionally, various pollutants in the environment, such as heavy metals and biocides, can amplify AMR through a process known as co-selection.

Scotland, in collaboration with the UK, is taking concrete steps to combat AMR. The National AMR Action Plan recognises the need for an improved evidence base on AMR’s sources, pathways, and risks to humans, animals, and ecosystems. SEPA is actively involved in implementing the plan’s key policy commitments, focusing on minimising AMR’s spread in the environment and raising public awareness of this issue.

SEPA’s role in addressing AMR is vital. The AMR in the Environment in Scotland Stakeholder Group, chaired by the Scottish Government, brings together key stakeholders, including SEPA, to understand and recommend interventions to minimise AMR spread. SEPA’s environmental AMR surveillance efforts, such as testing for cefotaxime and vancomycin resistance, provide crucial data to assess and address this growing problem.

Research is pivotal in our fight against AMR. SEPA collaborates with various organisations, including Edinburgh Napier University, Scottish Water, and the Scottish Government, to deepen our understanding of AMR in Scotland’s water environment. Additionally, SEPA’s involvement in the One Health Breakthrough Partnership focuses on reducing pharmaceutical pollution, a key contributor to AMR.

Antimicrobial resistance is a global challenge that demands our immediate attention. SEPA’s release of the information note on AMR in the environment is a significant stride toward understanding and combating this issue. As we navigate the complex landscape of AMR, it’s imperative that we stay informed, support research efforts, and actively engage in initiatives aimed at preserving our health, environment, and the well-being of future generations.

Click here to access the Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the environment: SEPA information note

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