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Expert to head up superbug program

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The Federal Government has stepped up its fight against the growth of superbugs in Australia with the appointment of a senior medical expert to lead work on a national surveillance program for antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic use.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has appointed Professor John Turnidge as a Senior Medical Adviser to head up the program.

The Commission was funded in last year’s Federal budget to coordinate national action to prevent and contain superbug resistance through enhanced surveillance systems.

A Senate Committee last year released a report warning that antimicrobial resistance is spreading rapidly worldwide, including in Australia, severely compromising the ability to treat many basic ailments.

The report, which drew on evidence from 38 submissions, including from infectious disease experts, warned that resistant infections were no longer confined to hospitals and were increasingly being acquired in the community.

It called for the establishment of a national organisation to help combat superbugs and monitor antibiotic use.

The Government has tasked the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care to head up the work.

The Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor Debora Picone, said Professor Turnidge was eminently qualified in his field.

“He has been involved with many high-profile societies and committees, both nationally and internationally, dealing with issues of antibiotic resistance and its management,” she said.

“Professor Turnidge’s expert medical advice and leadership will be invaluable to this project and in Australia’s response to AMR (antimicrobial resistance).”

The three-year project will enhance surveillance of AMR and antibiotic use in Australia and will work toward the establishment of a National Surveillance System.

The Commission will work with the Department of Health and the public and private health sectors to coordinate existing data collection, analyses and reporting activities for AMR.

Australia’s action against superbugs is in line with movements across the world.

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, captured international attention last year with dire predictions that, unless urgent action is taken to tighten infection controls and curb antibiotic use, basic medical procedures may soon become potentially deadly.

In her annual report to the British Government, Dame Sally said humanity risked losing the war against disease unless greater care and effort was expended regarding the use of existing antibiotics and the development of new drugs.

And, in America, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a steady increase in the prevalence of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) infections, associated with high mortality, in the past decade, mostly in hospitals.

The US agency said that, although the distribution of CREs was currently limited, they can spread rapidly in health care settings, have mortality rates close to 50 per cent, and pan-resistant strains have been reported.

Debra Vermeer