Bruce Chatwin’s classic collection of essays and travel stories “What am I doing here?” had a huge impact on me as a teenager.(1)
Like many, I was inspired by his perspective on life as a journey to be walked on foot; that the very best way to learn about the world and its people is by exploring and understanding. In the years since I first read it I’ve always been inspired by this book. I go back to it often, and its title has been a question I’ve found myself asking time and again.
In my professional life, I’m very much immersed in the communication and debate around animal health, and just recently this same question came back to me – “what am I doing here?” – followed by “what can I bring to these debates?”.
Take the conversation around antimicrobial resistance (AMR), for example. Preserving the use of antibiotics for future generations is a subject of huge importance and complexity that touches every person on the planet. And yet the scale of the issue is matched by the volume of misinformation and misunderstanding out there. For a public keen to make informed or ethical decisions as everyday consumers, this is a real problem.
So what am I doing here? I see my personal purpose (and that of the animal health sector more broadly) as going beyond simply raising the profile of ‘the issue’ of AMR. Instead, our efforts must be in raising awareness about the complexity and nuances of this global challenge. (2)
To pick up Bruce Chatwin’s thread of exploration and understanding, this is going to require empathy with and consideration for the people we meet along the way. There is a clear need for a better societal understanding of the drivers of AMR – we know this because many people still wrongly point to the livestock sector as the main driver for antibiotic resistance in humans.
We need to better explain that animals get sick, just as people do, and they need medicine in the same way. We also need to more clearly articulate just what the animal health sector is doing to safeguard the health of both animals and people.
In Europe, for example, the sector has been a long-term supporter of monitoring the development of resistant bacteria and the recording and surveillance of the use of antibiotics in livestock. (3)
At the same time, it recognises that yet more consistency and transparency in reporting is necessary to build public confidence and help develop ever more targeted, responsible recommendations for the use of antibiotics in animals. (4)
I can only share my own perspective here, but I believe it’s our shared responsibility to act on AMR. This is always going to be tough when only 60 per cent of people in the EU believe that medicines – including antibiotics – have a positive impact on the health and welfare of farm animals. (5)
There is still so much to do, so much to say and so much that we have a responsibility to explain. So that’s what I’m doing here.
2. See my previous post on Antibiotic Awareness Day
3. European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption ESVAC
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