Gonorrhoea a biosecurity threat warns global expert

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DRUG resistant gonorrhoea has become a serious public health and biosecurity threat in Australia that requires urgent action, warns a world leading expert on antibiotic resistance.

Doctor Manica Balasegaram, Director of Global Antibiotic Research & Development Partnership (GARDP) – which was set up by the World Health Organisation – says Australia is among dozens of countries to report an increasing number of cases of drug resistant gonorrhoea.

In fact, the WHO recently published a report showing over 50 countries were now reporting cases of gonorrhoea resistant to the last line of antibiotics.

“I can not emphasise enough; drug resistant gonorrhoea is an issue for Australia, it is an issue for the region,” Dr Manica told AAP.

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection and if left untreated can cause chronic problems, including infertility.

“This is a sexually transmitted infection, an infection that can be spread relatively quickly within a population and now we have reached an era where we have seen resistance to the last line of recommended treatment,” explained Dr Manica.

The latest surveillance report on Australia’s sexual health, released by the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney in 2017, showed diagnoses of gonorrhoea had increased by 63 per over the past five years, particularly among young city-dwelling heterosexual young men and women.

“It is urgent that we first of all understand that we need to reinforce prevention and health promotion but it’s absolutely urgent that we now accelerate the development of new tools such as drugs and diagnostics to really change the paradigm on managing this,” said Dr Manica.

He is currently in Australia to discuss antimicrobial resistance with leading academics, politicians, DFAT and pharmaceutical companies and says so far Australia has done a good job on keeping a close eye on the gonorrhoea situation.

The doctor, who started his career in emergency medicine and worked as a field doctor in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia for Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders, hopes Australia will step up and play a leadership role on the “huge” global issue.

“There’s been a lot of work done in Australia over the last decades that is of real value, and that includes what is happening in both the public and private sector and this of course requires government leadership,” Dr Manica said.

“That’s why we are here in Australia, we are here to engage with all these different groups and with government to see how we can work to collaborate and work together.”

Already, Australian researchers have helped identify a new drug to treat gonorrhoea with plans to conduct phase three clinical trials now underway, says Dr Manica.

“Obviously this drug will be important for a global perspective, including for the region of the Australia, for the long term if we are successful in our trials.”

“It’s also important that when we bring these new drugs to the market we find the right way to utilise them so we don’t create the same pressures that continues to create resistance to all the drugs we have put in the market.”

– AAP