World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (18-24 November 2020): “Antimicrobials: handle with care”

Background Information:

World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) was previously called the World Antibiotic Awareness Week. From 2020, it will be called the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week. This will reflect the broadened scope of WAAW to  include all antimicrobials including antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasitics and antivirals. Held annually since 2015, WAAW is a global campaign that aims to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance worldwide and encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to slow the development and spread of drug-resistant infections.

All future World Antimicrobial Awareness Weeks (WAAW) will be celebrated from 18 to 24 November. This year the general theme is “Antimicrobials: handle with care”. The theme for the health sector in 2020 is “United to preserve antimicrobials”.

Key Messages:

Antimicrobials – including antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics – are medicines used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. 

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As a result of drug resistance, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective and infections become increasingly difficult or impossible to treat.

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Many factors have accelerated the threat of AMR worldwide—including overuse and misuse of medicines in humans, livestock and agriculture, as well as poor access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

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Misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in humans, animals and plants are the main drivers in the development of drug-resistant infections. Poor medical prescribing practices and patient adherence to treatment also contribute. For example, antibiotics kill bacteria, but they cannot kill viral infections like colds and flu. Often they are incorrectly prescribed for those illnesses, or taken without proper medical oversight. Antibiotics are also commonly overused in farm animals and agriculture.

Lack of clean water and sanitation in health care facilities, farms and community settings and inadequate infection prevention and control promotes the emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections.

The misuse of antibiotics during COVID-19 pandemic could lead to accelerated emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not by a bacteria and therefore antibiotics should not be used to prevent or treat viral infections, unless bacterial infections are also present. 

Useful Links:

Link to related WHO news release:

Link to the related WHO campaign site:

Link to the WHO fact sheet on Antimicrobial Resistance:


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