Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, stated in 1945: “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily under dose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.”

Today we know that the emergence of AMR is a real and growing public health crisis. It is a natural biological phenomenon, but significantly driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, poor infection control and hygiene practices. The problem is further compounded by international trade and travel and the increasing difficulty and cost of developing new antimicrobial agents. Over 70 years after Fleming’s warning, we are in danger of entering what Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO, has termed the “post antibiotic era”. This is an era in which the developments of modern medicine are at risk and simple infections once again become killer diseases.

We must act now, however a great deal has already been done.  The control of healthcare associated infections and AMR has been a policy priority for the Department of Health and the health system for numerous years and a wide range of initiatives has been put in place including improved surveillance of infections and prescribing, infection prevention and control processes, antimicrobial stewardship initiatives, public and professional awareness raising and a significant emphasis on the education and training of healthcare professionals.  In addition, in recognition of the requirement for a ‘whole of Government’ approach to health issues, I established, with my colleague the Chief Veterinary Officer, a high level National Interdepartmental AMR Consultative Committee to provide expert guidance. As well as work on enhancing surveillance between the health and agriculture sectors, the Committee is currently working to develop Ireland’s National Action Plan against AMR which we will publish mid-2017.

This informative publication showcases just some of the ongoing work in Ireland to tackle AMR and, I hope, reminds us of the human ingenuity we possess when addressing challenges for our future health.