The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) will be involved in two £3m Medical Research Council-funded projects that aim to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Thailand, Malawi and Uganda.
Dr Andrew Singer, a Senior Environmental Microbiologist at CEH who specialises in the study of AMR, is taking part in two three-year research schemes along with the project leads from the University of Bristol and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, as well as partners in the countries.
Both projects – one taking place in Thailand and the other in Malawi and Uganda – will investigate the social, environmental and clinical driving forces behind the spread of AMR. In Thailand alone, it is estimated that AMR caused 38,000 deaths and an economic loss of US $1.2bn in 2010.
The research will be used to inform the development of affordable and feasible strategies to tackle AMR, which occurs when a microorganism – bacteria, virus or fungus – develops resistance to antibiotics, antivirals or antifungals respectively, thereby stopping these treatments from working effectively.
AMR is one of the greatest emerging threats to human health, and the challenge from antimicrobial resistance is particularly acute in countries where hygiene and sanitation are poorly resourced.
The studies will, in particular, look at E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae – bacteria that are particularly resilient to antibiotics and are increasingly prevalent in human infections there. These two microorganisms commonly reside in the human and animal gut, but can also be commonly found in manure associated with agriculture, as well as sewage that is released into the environment.
The projects will include training and capacity building, to ensure the benefits from the funding go beyond investigation of the research questions.
Dr Singer explained: “The influx of funding and resources from these two projects represents an enormous boost to the national AMR surveillance, which in some cases was minimal and in other cases non-existent. For example, in 2018, the budget for tackling AMR in Malawi is just US $24,000, while there is no allocation from the Ugandan government for AMR surveillance.
“It is also hugely important that this funding has come at a time when National AMR Action Plans are being developed. Without the insights provided by these projects, there would be no way to know if a plan was successful."
Dr Singer added that he and his fellow UK researchers were looking forward to collaborating with the multidisciplinary teams in the UK and the host countries to tackle AMR.
He said: “It is fantastic that the Medical Research Council in partnership with the UK Department of Health is supporting this vital research. Having recently visited Malawi and Thailand, I have a new understanding of how important the projects will be to them.
“Hopefully, the work we carry out will make a genuine difference and lead to the establishment of more routine national surveillance programmes.”
The AMR project in Thailand involves researchers from Bristol, Bath and Exeter universities and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the UK, Mahidol University and Chulabhorn Research Institute in Bangkok and the RAND Europe Community Interest Company.
The separate project covering Malawi and Uganda will be carried out by a consortium called DRUM (Drivers of Resistance in Uganda and Malawi). It comprises the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Lancaster University, the African Institute for Development Policy, the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Malawi.