Ministry takes the war against drug-resistant bacteria online

Antibiotic resistance could water down achievements brought about by modern medicine. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Antibiotic resistance could water down achievements brought about by modern medicine. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Drug resistance is an ever evolving challenge for health officials, medics and governments alike. New strains of diseases tend to pop up every other day.

Technology is playing a key role in combating some of these challenges. The government has set up an online portal to track drug resistance in the country.

The platform, dubbed Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System, will enable the Ministry of Health (MoH) to collect data on different types of bacteria which have developed resistance to antibiotics used for treating ailments they cause.

The information captured by this system — currently in the final stages of completion — will also offer insight into commonly used antibiotics which are no longer effective in disease control.

Today data on antibiotic resistance comes from small studies conducted haphazardly by different organisations over the years.

Dr Evelyn Wesangula, head of the Antimicrobial Resistance Programme at the MoH, said that even though the studies offer some insight into drug resistance, the data has been unable to provide a clear picture of the issue. “We are aware that we have a problem but we still don’t know the extent of this challenge as we lack sufficient data,” said Dr Wesangula.

The new platform will ensure that data is collected in a co-ordinated format and that studies on drug resistance are conducted using standard methodologies and best practises in research, she said. “It will enable us to get accurate, reliable and high quality data that will help the government and other stakeholders come up with effective policies to curb drug resistance.”

The e-surveillance system will collect data from various medical laboratories that will be connected to a central national database. “As lab officials carry out normal routine tests, they will identify resistant bugs and key the information into the online platform. Then experts will validate the data before it is made available to key stakeholders,” stated Dr Wesangula.

The information will enable MoH to identify hotspots for antibiotic resistance and thus identify areas in need of urgent attention. “Once we know the most affected areas we can move in to create awareness at the community level or advise hospitals on ways of preventing drug resistance. It will also help us know when to change treatment guidelines for certain infectious diseases that don’t respond effectively to treatment.”

The establishment of the e-surveillance platform is in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines aimed at gathering more data on drug resistant bacteria globally. The WHO set up a worldwide tracking platform known as the Global AMR Surveillance System (GLASS) in 2015 for this purpose.

This platform is fed by data generated by in-country tracking systems, as will be the case when Kenya’s tracking platform is launched in October.

Africa lags behind

“Aside from just using the data locally, we will also share our findings at the international level. They will then be reflected on the global surveillance platform,” said Dr Wesangula.

Countries in Europe and the US have such platforms up-and-running but Africa still lags behind. Kenya will become the second country in Africa (after South Africa) to set up the tool.

“Resistant bugs don’t respect boundaries. So, all countries have to work together as a team on this,” said Prof Samuel Kariuki, Director of the Centre for Microbiology Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

He noted that because of antibiotic resistance, a myriad of infectious diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera and blood poisoning have become difficult to manage, thus claiming lives of thousands of Kenyans.

He cautioned that if ignored, antibiotic resistance could water down achievements brought about by modern medicine.

This is because doctors usually rely on effective antibiotics to ward off infections during chemotherapy, organ transplants and life-saving surgeries. “We’re dealing with a serious issue and that’s why this surveillance system is very important,” said Dr Wesangula.