Message of Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, on World Antibiotic Awareness Week, 16 - 22 November 2015

From 16 to 22 November 2015, countries in the WHO African Region will commemorate the very first World Antibiotic Awareness Week. The theme for this year, “Handle Antibiotics with Care”, focuses on raising public awareness on global antibiotic resistance and encouraging everyone, everywhere, to play their respective roles in preserving the effectiveness of existing antibiotics.

Antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections only when prescribed by a certified health professional. Unfortunately, as a result of misuse/overuse, the effectiveness of antibiotics to prevent and treat a growing number of bacterial infections is decreasing due to antibiotic resistance. 

When antibiotic resistance occurs, medicines are no longer effective against infections which become resilient to standard treatments, hence increasing the risk of spread within the community. In such cases, treating common infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and meningitis becomes difficult and sometimes impossible.

Available data indicates that the African Region shares the worldwide trend of growing antibiotic resistance. Significant resistance has been reported in the treatment of several bacterial infections that are potentially transmissible not only in the hospital environment but also within the community. 

If urgent action is not taken, common infections which have been treatable for decades will become deadly again. Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, regardless of age or location. Consequently, urgent and collective action is needed to contain its spread and preserve the effectiveness of existing antibiotics.  

As we commemorate World Antibiotic Awareness Week, I appeal to policymakers to strengthen policies and take concrete actions to tackle antibiotic resistance. I urge health professionals, professional associations, patient groups, civil society organizations and all stakeholders in health to join efforts in raising awareness on the effects of antibiotic resistance on health and national economies. 

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with countries in the Region, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to promote best practices that pre-empt the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance, in both human and animal populations.

It is not too late to curb the impact of antibiotic resistance. We all have a role to play in handling antibiotics with care in order to preserve their effectiveness.

Thank you.