The Food Safety and Zoonosis Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) awarded UKZN’s Professor Sabiha Essack a grant worth about R980 000 for a research project she is working on.

The project is titled: The Triangulation of Antibiotic Resistance (ABR) from Humans, the Food Chain and Associated Environments – A One Health Project.

Essack is UKZN’s South African Research Chair in Antibiotic Resistance and One Health.

The project aims to triangulate the molecular epidemiology of ABR in Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., E coli, and Enterococcus spp. from the food production continuum from farms to retail meat products with ABR in human clinical isolates and bacterial isolates from associated sewage and water treatment plants.

Essack says the goal is to establish a baseline and ascertain the feasibility of this model for routine surveillance and also to inform interventions for ABR monitoring and containment.

The project inception workshop, held on 19 October was attended by the project mentors, Dr Awa-Aidara-Kane from the WHO and Professor Paula Cray from North Carolina State University in the US as well as representatives from the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance, the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the South African Animal Health Association, the South African Poultry Association, the South African Pork Producers Association and the Water Research Commission.

The SA Research Chair in Antibiotic Resistance and One Health’s project will implement WHO’s Advisory Group protocol on the Integrated Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance as one of five country projects funded in the competitive 2016 call.

‘The elaboration of antibiotic resistance in food animals funded by the WHO is one aspect of the overarching SARChI Project on Antibiotic Resistance and One Health,’ said Essack.

She said the One Health approach was a global strategy that encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration on health at the human-animal-environmental interface.  ‘Antibiotic resistance is a direct consequence of the selection pressure from indiscriminate antibiotic use in humans, animals and the environment, requiring a One Health approach towards its understanding and containment,’ said Essack.

The high HIV and AIDS burden and other substantive risk factors for communicable diseases in South Africa cause a high incidence of infectious diseases, engendering extensive antibiotic use and subsequent resistance. Two-thirds of the antimicrobials sold for animal use are used in growth promotion. Although the burden of ABR is not quantified, available evidence indicates that ABR is escalating in humans, animals and the environment.

‘The anticipated outcome of this project is the creation of an electronic platform that will triangulate, in real time, trends in antibiotic resistance in the human, animal and environmental health sectors to allow early warning of emerging and/or escalating resistance,’ said Essack.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini