Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a natural phenomenon in which microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites adapt to antimicrobial agents and cause medications to be ineffective for its curing purpose.
Zimbabwe recognises that the control of AMR requires close cooperation among the sectors involved in food, agriculture, environment and health. In this regard, the country has adopted a ‘One Health’ approach as a guiding principle for working together to address AMR issues as evidenced by the tripartite, which includes Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Environment.
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The Zimbabwe AMR Country grant consortium consisting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as lead grantee, World Health Organization (WHO) and the Biomedical Research and Training Institute (BRTI) partnered to rehabilitate 14 human and animal health laboratories which were commissioned in May 2022. The rehabilitation is under the project entitled, “Addressing gaps in surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in Zimbabwe” funded by the UK Government’s Fleming Fund to the tune of £4 million.
Almost a year down the line, the consortium and the Government represented by the Directorate of Laboratory Services in the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Directorate of Veterinary Services embarked on a one-week field mission to measure, learn and improve on progress of performance of the laboratories in AMR surveillance while developing a sustainable One Health roadmap.
We have taken note of the challenges while mapping how to implement sustainable AMR surveillance strategies
“Sustainability is key to the success of this project. This mission has given us the opportunity to appreciate progress made since rehabilitating and equipping these laboratories in AMR surveillance and diagnostic capacity in general. We have taken note of the challenges while mapping how to implement sustainable AMR surveillance strategies. The laboratories constitute a nucleus of One Health approaches that facilitate interlinkages in AMR surveillance between public, animal and environmental health,” said Patrice Talla, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa and FAO Representative to Zimbabwe.
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Rehabilitating laboratories: a pinnacle for implementing a sustainable One Health AMR surveillance roadmap
The process of rehabilitating the laboratories started in 2019 where the country nominated 14 priority laboratories to participate on the pilot national AMR surveillance using an integrated One Health approach. This was followed by capacity assessments which guided the formulation of technical specifications on the scope of works for the infrastructure rehabilitation, equipment and reagent procurements. In 2017, Zimbabwe developed a five-year National One Health AMR Action Plan aligned to the global AMR Action Plan. The mission comes at an opportune time when the country has embarked on developing the second generation of the country AMR national action plan. The formulation of the second generation of the AMR National Action Plan is guided by various assessments made including the FAO Progressive Management Pathway evaluation conducted in April 2022.
This visit confirmed that Zimbabwe is now well positioned to improve and strengthen AMR surveillance as well play its role at global level in the collection, analysis and aggregation of AMR data including the generation of information on trends over time, defining the health and economic implications of AMR for the public health, environment, food and agriculture sectors. The ultimate goal is to influence evidence-based policies and programmes for AMR mitigation measures that are prioritized across the relevant sectors, based on information generated from the surveillance of priority pathogens. FAO has recently developed a global IT platform known as, International FAO Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring (InFARM) to assist in collection of AMR and AMU data in the agrifood systems. Zimbabwe is one of the pilot countries to participate in this global initiative since it has already made strides in setting up an AMR surveillance system.
“The Government of Zimbabwe appreciates the role this project is playing towards addressing gaps in AMR surveillance in the country. In terms of sustainability, the rehabilitated laboratories have been incorporated in the Ministry of Health’s 2023 – 2027 strategic plan,” said Tanaka Sakubani, Deputy Director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Directorate of Laboratory Services.
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Going forward there is need to enhance efforts to increase generation of quality data and capacitate staff to generate information and use it for improving efficiency at facility level. Data generated from surveillance will also be used to influence national policies related to AMR and contribute to global platforms collating AMR data.