Korea Must Act Now to Combat Growing AMR Threat

Public officials are overlooking one of the gravest long-term threats to the Korean people, the health system, and economy: antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Some pathogens ― bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses ― have evolved strains that resist the antimicrobial medications we currently have available to fight them. Health care professionals often must watch helplessly as patients succumb to infections that antibiotics could once have easily beaten. They know that new antimicrobials, including and especially antibiotics, could easily gain the victory ― but they have none at their disposal.

The pathogens have gained an evolutionary edge as tools used against then have remained static. This is because the market for investment in new innovation has virtually dried up, thanks to a policy framework that does not provide for swift approval of new innovations or adequately reimburse companies for the investments they make to develop new drugs.

Without action, AMR threatens to undermine the very foundations of modern medicine ― killing as many as 10 million people worldwide every year by 2050 and shrinking global GDP by as much as 3.8 percent. Yet, today, Korea currently does not even have reliable data to understand AMR’s impact, much less address it.

Around the world, AMR already takes a heavy toll. According to a new Lancet report, it kills an estimated 1.27 million people globally each year. However, the response of the international community has been muted, with few incentives to invest in R&D for new antimicrobial medicines. No new class of antibiotics has been developed in 35 years, even as bacterial resistance has steadily grown and continues to strengthen each year. Older adults are more vulnerable to drug-resistant infections, and the increase in untreatable infections already being experienced among Korea’s growing number of seniors is a clear and urgent warning of a crisis that puts Koreans of all ages at great risk.

The scale of the challenge demands national strategies and international collaboration on two key battlefronts. To begin, we must continue to reduce the overuse of current antibiotics, so they remain effective for more people, for longer. This buys time for the second necessary campaign: developing new antibiotics by ensuring the market and policy incentives for the investment in new antibiotic innovation, and reimbursement policies are robust. Doing so will require novel incentives and sustained investment from governments, foundations, and the biopharmaceutical industry.

Korea trails shamefully on this pressing issue. In the 2021 AMR Preparedness Index, which tracks how countries are faring in the fight against AMR, Korea scored just 47/100 ― behind Germany, Japan, Canada, and other advanced economies. In fact, Korea scored closer to India (37) and China (37) than leaders like the United Kingdom (76) or the United States (68).

A number of policy gaps account for this lack of readiness. Korean public health campaigns are limited and smaller in scale than those in many other advanced countries. Too few Koreans understand the dimension of the AMR problem and what they can do to help. Meanwhile, provider education efforts on proper antibiotic usage are too narrow and remain inaccessible to many professionals.

Additionally, the lag between the approval of a new drug and an official reimbursement decision is 10 times longer in Korea than in Japan, reducing the availability of new medicines on the market. In fact, not one of three novel antimicrobials explored in the 2021 AMR Preparedness Index has been approved yet.

Korea needs more champions, including those working on aging and longevity issues, to address these gaps. Already, Korea’s first national action plan on AMR integrated best practices from the World Health Organization and established a robust surveillance and monitoring system to track AMR. In recent years, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and other government agencies have led efforts to reduce inappropriate usage of antibiotics for viral illnesses, track and compare usage rates between hospitals, and address overuse in livestock production.

It’s time to extend and build on these efforts. First, Korea can fully fund and support its recently released second national action plan on AMR, slated to run through 2025. A well-designed national strategy remains the foundation of a strong AMR response, and Korea must continue to support the plan’s priority areas, including antimicrobial stewardship and infection control programs in hospitals, plus R&D investments to help develop new diagnostics and drugs.

Second, policymakers and health system leaders can make AMR a public health priority. A commitment to large-scale awareness campaigns would empower both patients and providers to use antibiotics more responsibly. Making AMR training for health care professionals more accessible and more comprehensive would ensure a consistent approach across the health system. Further, Korea must invest to swell the ranks of its cadre of experts in the AMR field, including infectious disease specialists who can lead the counteroffensive against AMR.

Public officials should also design incentives for the creation and swift adoption of new antibiotics. By doing so, Korea would join AMR heroes like the U.K., which has built innovative models to pay for the public health value of new medicines. New antibiotics must be subject to careful stewardship to extend their useful life; financial success cannot depend on high unit sales. In conjunction, regulators can work to shorten the time between market approval and reimbursement approval.

If policymakers take forward-looking action to address AMR today, we can avoid desperate measures in the future. This is critical to preserving public health, economic strength, and a capable health system. It will place Korea in the global vanguard prioritizing this collective action problem with the highest possible stakes.

Dr. Kim Bong-young, Ph.D., is an associate professor of internal medicine (infectious diseases) at Hanyang University College of Medicine and director of the Isolation Ward at Hanyang University Hospital. Mike Hodin, Ph.D., is CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging.

Source: The Korea Times

Latest Developments

We keep our members and partners in touch with the most recent updates and opinions in the worldwide dialogue on population longevity and related issues.

2024 AMR Preparedness Index Progress Report Highlights Urgent Need For Global Action Against Antimicrobial Resistance

Today, the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) launched the 2024 AMR Preparedness Index Progress Report. Released in the lead up to the United Nations General Assembly 2024 High-level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) this September, the 2024 Progress Report assesses how the eleven largest global economies have advanced on calls to action laid out in the 2021 AMR Preparedness Index.

New Global Analysis Across Five Cities Shows Inequities in Adult Immunization Uptake, Signaling Need to Redesign Local and National Policy Interventions

GSK, in collaboration with the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA), announced a new report from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science (IQVIA Institute). The report, funded by GSK, explores the role of social and structural determinants of health in adult vaccine access and uptake across five global cities with strong data about their aging populations: Bangkok, Thailand; Brussels, Belgium; Chicago, US; Manchester, United Kingdom; and New York City, US.

New Report From the Global Coalition on Aging Highlights the Connection Between Adult Immunization and Economic Health in Aging APEC Region

As leaders from across the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) region convene in San Francisco over the next week, a new report from the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) points to investments in healthy aging as a growing economic imperative amid the region’s changing demographics. According to the new report, programs that keep populations healthy, active, and productive – like adult immunization – are increasingly becoming a prerequisite for economic stability and growth.

Menopause, the Silver Economy and Workplace Opportunities

As we recognise World Menopause Day, take a moment to consider the economic power, diverse expertise and skills, and incredible societal contributions of the estimated 1.1 billion post-menopausal women worldwide by 2025—a population on-par with China or India, and dwarfing any other country. Indeed, if we want to fuel the vibrant $15 trillion silver economy, societies, governments, and employers must empower older women in the future of work, including solutions that fight stigma and increase workplace support related to menopause.

Best Practices for Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce

Employers are grappling with a myriad of workforce-related issues ranging from productivity to attracting and retaining talent, but many may be overlooking some seismic shifts that are reshaping the future of work: longevity, population aging, and the multigenerational workforce.

Brazil Must Fight Antibiotic Resistance

The threat posed by antimicrobial resistance is urgent and spares no country - including Brazil. According to The Lancet, 63 deaths per 100,000 are associated with AMR in Brazil and Paraguay, a rate that exceeds the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. AMR-associated deaths in Brazil are second only to cardiovascular diseases and cancers.