2023-09-06| Special

World Premiere of Documentary on the Battle Against Antibiotic Resistance

by Richard Chau
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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) caused by misuse or abuse of antibiotics constitutes a pressing health risk issue in recent years, and is increasingly jeopardizing public health. Some experts even express concerns over the dire situation of running out of medicines for certain diseases if the prescription and use of antibiotics are not carefully controlled, or if the development of new antibiotics fails to keep pace with bacterial evolution. 

With the aim of highlighting AMR’s threat to global health, the AMR Action Fund, Pfizer, MSD, and Shionogi co-funded an ambitious documentary, produced by the BBC, which premiered globally on YouTube on September 5 and is now available on YouTube. The documentary tells the story of how doctors, scientists and researchers are working together to combat this health crisis and aims to promote the proper use of antibiotics.

Related article: UK Launches World-First Program With Two Antimicrobial Drugs to Counter Superbugs 

AMR Fatalities Surpass AIDS and Malaria, Threatening Global Health

When bacteria are continually exposed to antibiotics in amounts insufficient to completely eliminate them or inhibit their growth, the surviving pathogens may develop DNA mutations that allow them to become drug-resistant. While AMR can be a result of natural evolution, the crisis can rapidly worsen when antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly by doctors (e.g., using antibiotics for viral illnesses ignoring the fact that antibiotics do not work on viruses) or used inappropriately by the general public (e.g., discontinuing medication when symptoms seem to have subsided, or indiscriminate use of antibiotics in food animals).

An analysis published in February 2022 in The Lancet estimated deaths attributable to and associated with bacterial AMR for 23 pathogens and 88 pathogen–drug combinations in 204 countries and territories in 2019. The report shows that an estimated 4.95 million deaths globally in 2019 were associated with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, directly contributing to about 1.27 million deaths (an average of about 3,480 per day), exceeding the number of deaths from AIDS (860,000) or malaria (640,000) in the same year. Among the 23 pathogens covered in the study, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae were particularly deadly.

Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic over the past three years could aggravate the AMR crisis. A study published in June 2021 showed that the proportion of certain drug-resistant bacteria increased three-fold during the pandemic. In particular, patients with confirmed co-infections with drug-resistant bacteria were likely to stay in the hospital for three to five times longer. Similar findings were reported in another special report published by the U.S. CDC in June 2022, which noted a significant increase in the proportion of drug-resistant bacteria due to increased antibiotic use in severe cases of COVID-19.

A Brand New Documentary on a Global Crisis

The documentary “Race Against Resistance: The Life And Death Struggle To Save Antibiotics” is co-funded by the AMR Action Fund, Pfizer, MSD and Shionogi and created by BBC Storyworks Commercial Productions, highlighting the significant potential threat that AMR poses to global public health, as well as raising awareness of the issue.

The 36-minute film features the testimonies of AMR survivors, as well as scientists and researchers dedicated to tackling AMR. In addition, the CEOs of Phare Bio and Adaptive Phage Therapeutics, two biotech companies that are actively developing therapies against AMR, have also been interviewed. 

“For years, people have been referring to AMR as the silent pandemic because it’s so overlooked,” said Chris Sweeney, Director of Communications of the AMR Action Fund. “It’s a grand pandemic. It directly kills 1.27 million people a year and indirectly contributes to five million deaths a year. There’s nothing silent about it.” In fact, one of the key messages of the documentary is to emphasize that the AMR is no longer a future problem, but an imminent threat. One researcher describes AMR as “one of the most significant existential threats to humanity” in the trailer, while Dr. Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officers of the UK, raises a pressing question, “What world are we going to give our children if we’ve lost all the antibiotics, and they go back to dying of a scratch they got in the garden when playing?”

The documentary premiered globally on YouTube on September 5. As one of the major sponsors, Pfizer is promoting the film and has posted the trailer on its Instagram and Facebook pages with the hashtag #StopSuperbugs.

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