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Without global action, resistant germs could kill 5 million annually by 2050 - FAO

The Methicillin-resistant 'superbug' Satphylococcus aureus (Reuters file)
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MANILA, Philippines -- Up to five million people could die annually by 2050 if nothing is done to fight the spread of antimicrobial resistant germs, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization warned on Tuesday.

The FAO issued the warning in a statement marking World Antibiotic Awareness Week, which it is marking together with the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Health Organization.

"AMR (antimicrobial resistance) occurs when microorganisms develop resistance to antimicrobials (antibiotics), making illnesses in humans and animals harder to treat," FAO said.

"Overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in both, as well as in plants, are causing an increase in cases of AMR globally," it added. "When occurring in farm animals, where farmers often routinely give antibiotics to their livestock, such resistance can be transferred to humans through the food chain or other routes."

FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth said AMR makes disease treatment longer and more expensive.  

Also, according to the O'Neill Report commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom and made public early this year, "action to fight AMR was needed immediately in order to head off a human death toll in Asia of up to five million annually by 2050."

The three UN agencies urged health professionals -- both for humans and animals -- to "prescribe or dispense antibiotics more cautiously."

The FAO, OIE, and WHO have agreed to pursue a "One Health" approach "to fight AMR and other common and emerging threats to all lifeforms."

In the Asia-Pacific region, the three organizations have been helping UN member-countries to make changes in their use of antimicrobials, Hirofumi Kugita, the OIE regional representative, said.

Kugita added that there must be coordination between the public health and veterinary sectors so that countries could make "harmonized actions and long-term commitments against anti-microbial resistance."

For Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, there must be "strong national action plans and coordination across all sectors, including veterinary medicine, agriculture, and human health" so these medicines remain effective.

The three agencies also stressed the need for political will and action on a global scale to avoid "an international catastrophe."