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Canada not doing enough to address antimicrobial resistance, says auditor general

Ottawa, ON – Canada’s Public Health Agency and Health Canada are not doing enough to address the public health risks posed by the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance, according to Canada’s auditor general, Michael Ferguson. This week, Ferguson tabled the results of his audit in the Spring 2015 Report on Antimicrobial Resistance.

The report’s overall conclusion is that the two organizations have not fulfilled key responsibilities to mitigate the public health risks posed by the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance across the country.

The report focuses on a number of key areas, including a pan-Canadian antimicrobial resistance strategy, surveillance of antimicrobial resistance and use, and prudent antimicrobial use.

The report finds that nearly 20 years after the government identified antimicrobial resistance to be a public health priority, the Public Health Agency of Canada has still not succeeded in mobilizing the federal, provincial, and territorial governments and others toward the development of a pan-Canadian strategy to address antimicrobial resistance. The report recommends that the agency establish roles, responsibilities and a timeline for establishing such a strategy. It also finds that although the agency has identified weaknesses in its collection, analysis, and dissemination of surveillance information on antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial use, it needs to address these weaknesses to ensure that adequate data is available.

Finally, while it found that overall, the agency and Health Canada have taken some steps to promote prudent antimicrobial use in humans, some important steps governing antimicrobial use in food animals have not been made. For example, existing regulations to prohibit farmers from importing unlicensed non-prescription antimicrobial drugs that are important to human medicine for use in their own animals have not been strengthened. In addition, the department allows certain antimicrobials that are used to treat serious infections in humans to be sold without a prescription for use in food animals. The report recommends that Health Canada should finalize its plans to address “own-use importation” of veterinary antimicrobial drugs and strengthen its control over the importation of veterinary antimicrobial active pharmaceutical ingredients. It also recommends that Health Canada should periodically review all antimicrobials important to human medicine to determine whether their approved uses and availability in veterinary medicine increase the risk that these antimicrobials will become ineffective in treating infections in humans.

In a press release accompanying the release of the report, along with six other reports, Mr. Ferguson commented that “We are concerned that the issues we are seeing today may become bigger problems in the future. It is important for departments to focus on addressing these issues promptly, to avoid bigger problems which will cost more to fix down the road, in terms of time, money and effort,” he said.