Antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

This page includes information on antimicrobial resistance and Australia's first National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy.

Page last updated: 01 April 2016

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National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2015-2019

The Australian Government has released the first National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy to guide the response to the threat of antibiotic misuse and resistance.

The strategy was developed in partnership with industry and government, and will guide action by governments, health professionals, veterinarians, farmers and communities to reduce the emergence of resistant bacteria.

A strategy Implementation Plan is currently being developed in consultation with stakeholders.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses and parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result, standard medical treatments become ineffective and infections persist and may spread to others. Health care professionals are left with limited or in some instances, no available treatment options.

While AMR to some extent is a natural phenomenon, certain human actions accelerate this process of increasing resistance. The single most powerful contributor to resistance is the global unrestrained use of antibiotics.1 This includes their underuse, overuse and misuse in both human and animal health (food animals and companion animals) and in agriculture.

Why is AMR a problem?

AMR is an urgent global health priority, with the World Health Organization (WHO) describing it as a looming crisis in which common and treatable infections are becoming life threatening. The prevalence of AMR is increasing both in Australia and internationally. Resistance is increasing at a pace that exceeds the pharmaceutical industry’s capacity to develop new antimicrobial drugs.

In human health, AMR infections can necessitate additional investigations, more complex and expensive treatments, longer hospital stays and lead to greater mortality. Estimates of the costs of AMR have largely focussed on the increased financial costs of longer hospital stays. However, to accurately predict the potential cost of AMR, estimates also need to take into account other costs, such as the impact that an absence of effective antimicrobials poses for modern medicine.2 Surgery, intensive care, organ transplants and cancer treatment are only possible with effective antimicrobials.

In animals, AMR infections result in reduced animal health, welfare, biosecurity and production outcomes. AMR infections in animals can result in the transfer of resistant bacteria to people who come into contact with them. AMR infections in animals destined for human consumption also pose a risk via foodborne transmission. More information can be found on the Department of Agriculture’s website.

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What is already being done in Australia to address AMR?

Australia has a range of existing initiatives in both human and animal health to address aspects of AMR. These include regulatory restrictions on the prescription and use of antimicrobials, surveillance activities, hand hygiene and antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) programmes, strict requirements to manage pathogen levels along the food production and processing chain, education for prescribers on the judicious use of antibiotics, and research into new products and approaches to prevent and respond to AMR. While there has been national coordination of some AMR-related activities, there are opportunities to improve coordination across all elements, better integrate efforts to address gaps and ensure a more comprehensive response to AMR in Australia.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care

The Australian Government Department of Health is funding the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care to develop and implement national surveillance of AMR and Antibiotic Usage (AU). This will include establishing passive and targeted surveillance systems for AMR and AU in humans across hospital, community and aged care settings that build on existing surveillance systems, and a national alert system to inform clinicians and policy makers about emerging AMR trends that could impact on public health.

More information on this work can be found at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care website.

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NPS MedicineWise

The Australian Government is providing funding to NPS MedicineWise to run an AMR awareness and education campaign targeting both consumers and health professionals, with a particular focus on general practitioners as the main prescribers of antibiotics in Australia. The 5 year campaign commenced in February 2012, with the aim of reducing current antibiotic prescribing rates by 25 percent in general practice.

More information on the campaign and the work of NPS MedicineWise can be found at the NPS MedicineWise website.

International collaboration on AMR

AMR is a significant global public health priority that requires national action and international collaboration. Australia is engaging with other countries, including through the World Health Organization (WHO), to ensure alignment with key international policies and strategies and to support developing countries in our region in their efforts to prevent and contain AMR. Australia is also contributing to the development of a Global Action Plan (GAP) for AMR, being led by the WHO.

More information on the GAP can be found at the WHO website.

Relevant reports and initiatives

On 17 November 2015, the Australian Government Department of Health and Department of Agriculture and Water Resources jointly convened National AMR Stakeholder Forum. The Forum brought together representatives from across the human health, animal health and agricultural sectors, as well as government representatives and researchers to discuss the development of an Implementation Plan for the National AMR Strategy.

The following documents are available on request, please email AMR.

  • National AMR Forum Presentation - Stephen Page
  • National AMR Forum Presentation - Karin Thursky
  • National AMR Forum Presentation - Chris Del Mar
  • Implmentation Stocktake for National AMR Forum

The AMRPC held an Australian One Health AMR Colloquium on 18 July 2013. The aim of the Colloquium was to bring together experts and industry representatives from the human and animal health, food, agriculture, and academic sectors to discuss key One Health priorities and strategies for addressing AMR in Australia. A report of the day’s discussions can be accessed below:

Importance Ratings and Summary of Antibacterial Uses in Humans in Australia (the “Antibacterial Importance Ratings”) provides guidance to clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry about the importance of antibacterial agents available for human use, and on the current ways in which antibacterials are used in humans in Australia. The Antibacterial Importance Ratings document is regularly reviewed and revised as required by the Australian Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on AMR. 

The Antimicrobial Resistance Standing Committee (AMRSC)  produced a report, National surveillance and reporting of antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic usage for human health in Australia, that details the current surveillance activities for antibiotic use and resistance in human health.

In 2013, the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration completed an inquiry into the progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the 1999 Joint Expert Technical Advisory Committee on Antibiotic Resistance. The findings of the inquiry can be accessed on the Parliament of Australia website.

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1. Chan, M. Combat drug resistance: no action today means no cure tomorrow, World Health Day 2011, 6 April 2011. World Health Organisation.
2. Smith, R. Coast, J. The true cost of antimicrobial resistance. BMJ 2013;346:f1493.
3. One Health Global Network: One Health: a concept that became an approach and then a movement.