Kia ora koutou,

We are now ramping up work on our big project for 2021, titled Kotahitanga: Uniting Aotearoa against infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance, so I thought it was time for a quick update.

COVID-19 showed us all how a pandemic could turn from an ‘abstract threat’ to reality last year. So, we feel that the time is right to take a deeper look at infectious diseases and how we can implement appropriate measures to prepare for the future. Our work will explore how to mitigate the risks of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance in Aotearoa New Zealand, building in part on the Office’s short briefing on antimicrobial resistance from 2018.

We are still seeing the devastation caused by the current pandemic, partly due to the absence of effective treatment. At the same time, the treatments we have for simply controlling common infections, like antibiotics, are becoming useless as microbes evolve to resist them. Antimicrobial resistance – when infections become resistant to the drugs which would normally kill them – is also a pandemic, but a slow-burning one. It threatens to undo 100 years of medical progress by making the modern antimicrobial medicines we rely on ineffective.

Purple blobs clustered on a black background.

Colourised scanning electron micrograph of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, which causes gonorrhea. Image credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

This growing problem of drug-resistant infections exacerbates the emerging challenges that we face, as a country and globally. There are a range of infectious diseases that pose a risk to the health of our people, animals and plants. Some are prevalent in Aotearoa New Zealand and currently cause significant harm to people in our communities – often in an inequitable way. Other infectious diseases threaten our agricultural and horticultural industries and our environment more broadly. Think of our recent experiences with M. bovis in cows and PSA in kiwifruit.

I am very grateful to my co-chair, Dr Matire Harwood, and the rest of our expert panel who are already working hard on this important kaupapa, and at our first meeting decided on the scope of our project. You can read the scope here on our website. We will build this webpage as the project grows – so check back for updates. After taking a broad look at infectious diseases to provide a global context, we will shine a spotlight on those of particular relevance in Aotearoa New Zealand: group A Streptococcus infection (and its major complications of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease); Campylobacter; and antimicrobial-resistant organisms that are becoming common on our shores, such as gonorrhoea, MRSA and urinary tract infections. These spotlight workstreams will help us to better understand the holistic approaches needed to inform Aotearoa New Zealand’s response to the threat of infectious diseases and drug-resistant infections.

There are many people throughout Aotearoa New Zealand who have expertise relevant to this project and we are keen to engage with as many people as possible through our reference group. This already has 125 members! Ngā mihi nui to those who have volunteered to be involved so far. For anyone else who would like to be involved, please get in touch.

Ngā mihi,

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