Spreading the word about superbugs: why we need to think outside the box when it comes to the AMR message

10th November 2020

Antibiotic resistant infections, or ‘superbugs’, are one of the gravest threats we face. They already cause more than 750,000 deaths every year - or around one person every 40 seconds. Yet despite the scale of the issue, recognition remains low, especially amongst the general public. In this post, Edwin Panford-Quainoo explores how scientists, academics and health professionals can do more to spread the message about drug-resistant infections.

My first real-life experience of the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) was in an Australian hospital, when I cared for a burns patient. The patient was not responding to any of the antibiotics his infection was being treated with. It was a harrowing experience. You would not wish either his pain, or the worry of his family, on anyone. When I left, the patient was heading into his sixth week in the hospital with little progress. I will forever carry those memories with me.

Fast forward to today, and I am pursuing a PhD, examining antimicrobial stewardship in Ghanaian community pharmacies. Unlike in the UK, these community pharmacists supply antimicrobials without prescription, and are the final interface between the healthcare professional and consumer. As such, they are in a unique position, perfectly placed for a stewardship intervention. However, like many people, these consumers haven’t had first-hand experience of the horrors of a drug-resistant infection. As a result, they don’t think it’s an issue that could affect them. In order to get the message across, pharmacies need to adopt innovative ways of engaging consumers. For example, messages printed on dispensing bags, t-shirts, or pens etc.

But it’s not just community pharmacies that need to think outside the box. All AMR messaging should be innovative, wide-ranging, and far-reaching, just like these examples:

You’ll notice that each of these platforms use the creative arts to give the message a ‘wow’ factor. This, is the key! For many people, AMR is a confusing, science-based issue, so capturing people imaginations is vital.

In addition, I believe in sharing people’s stories and experiences about AMR. Just as my own experience in Australia has opened my eyes, it’s vital we engage people with real life stories, so that they understand this is not some far-fetched, futuristic scenario. Rather, it is a problem that is happening here and now, and can affect anyone.

Finally, all education should be linked to practical advice. Inform people about the problem, then empower them to make a difference! In this way, we can come together and beat superbugs once and for all.

Edwin Panford-Quainoo is a Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Global Health Fellow and a Ph.D. student at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Twitter and Instagram handle: @EdwinPQ1

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