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Southeast Asia a ‘hot spot’ for antibiotic abuse

An FAO official says there’s a need for both better education and greater enforcement

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food is rife in Southeast Asia, a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official said Jan. 31, warning of serious risks for people and animals as bacterial infections become more resistant to treatment.

The official from the United Nations’ food agency issued the warning on the sidelines of an international meeting in Bangkok focused on antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

  • Read more: Stop using antibiotics in healthy animals, WHO urges farmers

FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth told Reuters in Bangkok that threat of AMR was magnified in places, like Asia’s mega-cities, where there was high population growth and intense food and agriculture production.

“Here in Southeast Asia… we would consider it a hot spot because of the population growth, urbanization dynamics, the production of food,” Lubroth told Reuters.

A report published Jan. 29 by the World Health Organization said that a new global surveillance system had found widespread occurrence of antibiotic resistance among 500,000 people with suspected bacterial infections across 22 countries.

“Some of the world’s most common – and potentially most dangerous – infections are proving drug resistant,” Marc Sprenger, director of WHO’s Antimicrobial Resistance Secretariat, said in a statement.

A 2016 report by economist Jim O’Neill, commissioned by the British government, projects US$100 trillion in losses by 2050 if nothing is done to reverse the trend, and estimated that the annual toll resulting from AMR will climb to 10 million deaths in the next 35 years.

“Ninety per cent of those deaths would be in the developing world, and that is scary,” Lubroth said.

He said the FAO advocates educating farmers about the dangers of using antibiotics to promote growth in animals, and stronger enforcement of rules governing food production.

“It’s not only about having the rules in black and white, they need to be applied.”

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