By Jonathan Trapp, member of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Atlanta, GA, vicar at Christ Our Shepherd, Peachtree City, GA and Emergency Manager, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.
When most of us think about the idea of ‘creation care’, the images that come to mind are of being more ‘green’, recycling, use energy efficient products, driving vehicles that get better fuel mileage. But there is actually a lot more to it than that. If creation care involves the proper stewardship of the resources with which we have been blessed, that stewardship is all-encompassing. It is inclusive not just of things like fuel and water and electricity, but it is also about the proper stewardship of medicines and of doing what we can to ensure not only our own health, but to also help ensure the health and well-being of all of our brothers and sisters. I say this because as we misuse and abuse medical resources we are moving ourselves towards a future where the drugs won’t be effective and our ability to combat what should be a simple virus or infection will no longer be possible.
Early in December, around 30 other individuals from all over the world and I were invited to the Vatican by the State Department, the Vatican, Georgetown University and the GHR Foundation, for a workshop to discuss the role of faith based organizations in combating Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR). Now if you’re like me at all, you may be wondering what, exactly, is AMR?
As brief background, AMR is something that occurs when any type of disease causing organism (be it a virus, bacteria, or another category of disease) evolves so that the treatments used previously to combat it no longer work. Part of the reason this happens is because microbes are constantly evolving and changing to survive, but it also happens as we misuse tools like medications, either by not taking the proper dosage, not taking it for long enough, or by taking drugs which are expired or don’t offer the full benefits of quality medication. Currently around 700,000 people a year die from AMR related illnesses and by 2050, that number is projected to increase to 10 million per year. That would make AMR a more significant killer than cancer. However, AMR is more than an issue of number of fatalities; it threatens human development with care giving and health impacts related that extend beyond the individual, affecting the family and community. Infection with drug-resistant diseases can cause longer illnesses, more complicated illnesses, more doctor visits, the use of stronger and more expensive drugs – which can have significant side-effects, and more deaths. The costs associated with treating AMR in 2050 would rise to around 100 trillion dollars. If that sounds terrifying, it is! If left unaddressed AMR has the possibility to take the world back to a pre-antibiotic age. And while the most vulnerable face the heaviest burdens and economic impacts of infections, AMR equally poses a threat to developed countries like the United States as it does to the developing world. In a world without antibiotics, modern medical advances including cancer treatment and surgeries will not be possible due to the threat of infection. AMR poses a threat to rich and poor alike. Combating AMR will require that we rethink how we use medicine (only taking what is appropriate for our illness, taking the right dosage, and taking the full course of the medicine). It will ask us to be vigilant about hygiene and infection control (washing our hands regularly). It will ask us to help build healthcare capacity in the developing world and to help ensure that all people have ready access to clean, safe water and to electricity so that they can practice proper infection control procedures that we often take for granted. Combating AMR will require real behavioral change from all 7.4 billion people on the planet. For those with resources and easy access to medicine, it will ask us to not take medicine for granted and to not overuse or misuse it. While it may seem like a massive and amorphous challenge, the fight against AMR is closely aligned with many of the things that we as a church are already doing and it aligns with what so many of you are already doing. When the ELCA works to build healthcare capacity in the developing world, it is combating AMR. When the ELCA helps to fight malaria, the infrastructure that is created can help combat AMR. When the ELCA builds wells, the access to safe water helps combat AMR. Closer to home, your individual actions help combat AMR. Through simple things like hand washing, staying up to date on your vaccinations, only taking medications when you actually need them and following the instructions regarding how much to take and for how long, and supporting the work of organizations engaged around the world to help improve access to healthcare and to build healthcare infrastructure in those places it is lacking are all very simple ways that you can help fight AMR. AMR is a threat to everybody on earth and if left unaddressed one of our greatest killers. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By recognizing that how we treat the gift of modern medicine and how we exercise stewardship over the blessings which we have received is truly part of our calling to be good stewards we can help live into our calling to love and care for creation. After spending a week with the amazing workshop participants, I have come to understand the fight against AMR as being a fight that requires the involvement of the faith community if it is to succeed because the faith community can help spread the word about the issue and can help incorporate into the mission work we are already engaged in and because we can help educate the people we serve with and worship with and we can help influence those around us. I look forward to talking with all of you more about this important issue and what you can do to help address this concern in your own context. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to talk further.