PETALING JAYA: Some diseases are becoming tougher to treat in Malaysia, with stronger bacteria, or “superbugs”, becoming more resistant to antibiotics.

This means patients could take a longer time to recover from infections, and are at higher risk of severe illness and death since the medicine has become less effective.

Examples of bacteria that have grown more stubborn against antibiotics are those that cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections, abdominal infections, skin and soft tissue infections and bloodstream infections.

Such a situation, known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), has become a grave concern globally and Malaysia is not spared, said the Health Ministry.

“The rapid emergence and spread of AMR present serious challenges in healthcare systems and threaten the ability of antimicrobials (like antibiotics) to effectively treat severe infections,” the ministry said.

To stop AMR from becoming worse in Malaysia, the ministry told Sunday Star that it is coming up with a new national strategic plan to combat such “superbugs”, to be ready by the end of this year.

“Malaysia is currently finalising the Malaysian Action Plan on AMR for the term between 2022 and 2026,” it said.

Before this, the ministry had put in place its first national action plan on AMR between 2017 and 2021, which focused on education and awareness, surveillance and research, infection prevention and control, and appropriate use of antimicrobials.

“In the coming second national action plan, the environmental and agricultural sectors will also be involved,” the ministry said.

This is because the main drivers of AMR include the misuse and overuse of antibiotics – either in humans or in food animals like poultry and livestock and aquaculture.

“The spread of residues of these medicines in soil, crops and water also worsens the situation,” the ministry said.

Last year, it was reported that an estimated 700,000 deaths globally each year are linked to antibiotic resistance issues, and if uncontrolled, this is expected to increase to 10 million by 2050.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has also said the death rate due to stubborn bacterial infection in patients treated in hospitals was double that of patients with common bacterial infections.

In Malaysia, an example of bacteria which has become stronger is the Acinetobacter baumannii, which is responsible for illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis, bloodstream infections and urinary tract infections.

“Its resistance rate for all antibiotics tested has increased.

“For an antibiotic known as meropenem, the bacteria’s resistance spiked from 58.7% in 2020 to 68.8% last year,” the ministry said.

This means that there is a 68.8% chance that the antibiotic won’t work on patients receiving the treatment.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said other examples of infections which have become harder to treat are tuberculosis (an infection that usually attacks the lungs), gonorrhoea (a type of sexually transmitted disease) and salmonellosis (food poisoning).

He explained that when antibiotics are used, some bacteria will die but resistant ones can survive and even multiply.

Malaysian Association of Food Animal Veterinarians president Datuk Dr Vincent Ng In Hooi said the usage of antibiotics in food animals is under control here.

“We are trying to implement the national action plan on AMR to the best of our ability, as it is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today,” he said.