Interview with Dr. David M. Barash, Executive Director, Global Health Portfolio & Chief Medical Officer, GE Foundation
With the release in May of the final report and recommendations of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, GBCHealth has convened a group of global leaders to discuss the potential impact of AMR and their priorities for immediate action. The series, which will be published over the next three weeks, is intended to supplement the high-level meeting on AMR that took place at the UN General Assembly meeting on 21 September, 2016.
What do you see as the priorities for addressing the challenge of AMR in the short term?
WHO’s first report on AMR reveals that the time is now and it is not a problem of the future. The cost of inaction is tremendous. According to the 2014 AMR Global Report on Surveillance, infection prevention is the first place to reduce the need for antibiotics. Given the weak infrastructure at health care facilities in low resource settings, they are most prone to infections. If history is any evidence of the impact of a weak healthcare system, it is important that a collective platform on AMR accelerate impact on infrastructure and systems, and thereby reduce the risk of emerging threats.
We see the following opportunities in the short term as priorities for AMR – better hygiene practices, access to clean water and sanitation, and behavioral practices for infection prevention. These prevention activities are ready for implementation, and they are embedded in an ecosystem for Safe Surgical practices, which is perhaps an environment most prone to infection and preventable antibiotic use. Hence, we believe that an immediate focus on Safe Surgery as a key priority for AMR can help curb the fight against anti-microbial resistance.
How can the private sector be an effective partner in the global AMR effort?
The threat of AMR has a significant impact to business continuity and employee health. The private sector has an obligation to take a leadership role in galvanizing the momentum on AMR. To address this daunting task, it will require us to start looking at the problem differently – a short and long term approach to prevention, research, innovation and advocacy. Given the role private sector currently plays in global health with its resources and technological innovation, it has already proven to be an effective partner in this field. Also, it is important to look beyond cash when including the private sector – there is an opportunity to leverage its resources and the expertise the private sector can bring to the table that will have a significant impact. There are a lot of unknowns especially due to the lack of new product pipeline to tackle AMR and an approach to solve this challenge without involving the innovation DNA of the private sector will be detrimental.
How can we overcome barriers that inhibit investment and action to address AMR?
Global Health is the fundamental concept of interdependency; yet, it is a very siloed space in which various important initiatives in healthcare in low resource settings are seeking attention and investment. Although a siloed approach is not necessarily a bad problem since focused attention produces faster outcomes, it also creates waste in the system. Given the opportunity for multiple global health initiatives to focus on healthcare associated infection prevention through its programs, it is vital that these initiatives collaborate under an AMR platform. It is also important that there is strong leadership and accountability across all levels of engagement to be able to set aside the agenda of individual actors and create an environment for collective impact.
How is GE working to address the issues of AMR as a leader on the Private Sector Round Table of the Global Health Security Agenda?
GE co-founded the Private Sector Roundtable with Johnson and Johnson with two primary goals: 1) to support governments working to address the Global Health Security Agenda, and 2) to collaborate in innovative ways to prepare for and respond to natural, public health, or humanitarian crises. AMR indeed has the potential to be a global crisis, or could be considered to be one already. AMR is the first (Prevent 1) action package in the Global Health Security agenda, which calls for the need to “strengthen surveillance and laboratory capacity, ensure uninterrupted access to essential antibiotics of assured quality, regulate and promote the rational use of antibiotics …., and support existing initiatives to foster innovations in science and technology ….” Given the imperative for capacity and innovation the private sector will play an instrumental role addressing this action package. Several companies within the PSRT have tools to support the work in this package. GE will be leveraging its work in Safe Surgery, including its Clean Cut partnership with Life Box to help prevent surgical infections and the associated use of antibiotics.