Statement from Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada - World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2021


November 18-24 is World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) and this year's theme is "Spread Awareness, Stop Resistance".

The World Health Organisation (WHO) leads WAAW to bring global awareness to antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This year’s campaign offers us all the chance to take concrete action to limit the spread of AMR.

AMR can occur naturally over time when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them or slow their growth. Antimicrobial use is necessary in some circumstances; however, the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial drugs and antibiotics in humans and animals are amplifying the AMR problem.

The WHO declared that AMR is one of the top ten global health issues to track in 2021, and as Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, it is one of my key priorities.

Many antimicrobial drugs are becoming less effective at treating infections, and drug-resistant strains are emerging. Without antimicrobial drugs that work, routine surgeries like hip replacements, chemotherapy for cancer, common infections like pneumonia and strep throat, and minor injuries, like cuts and scrapes, can result in more complications, and can even become life threatening.

In Canada, AMR is already a significant burden on human health, health care and the economy – causing almost 15 deaths a day and costing our health care system about $1.4 billion annually. As more and more drugs stop working, more lives will be negatively impacted and put in danger. We are all at risk from antimicrobial resistant infections. 

The Pan-Canadian Framework for Action, published in 2017, developed collaboratively with federal, provincial, territorial governments sets out four priorities needed to tackle AMR: surveillance, infection prevention and control, stewardship, and research and innovation.

In 2019 I released the public health spotlight report on AMR titled Handle with Care: Preserving Antibiotics Now and Into the Future. The report helps us understand what the drivers of the problem are and how each of us can take action to help ensure the antimicrobial drugs we have stay effective.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted our lives, AMR has remained a significant health challenge. AMR is a complex global concern that requires a “One Health” approach as the drivers and impacts of AMR not only impact human and animal health, but also plant and environmental health.

A One Health approach is a collaborative, multi-sectoral, and trans-disciplinary approach recognizing the interconnections between people, animals, plants and their shared environment. By designing and implementing multi-sectoral programs, policies, legislation and research with individuals from human, animal and plant health, food and feed production, and the environment, AMR can be effectively addressed and information can be broadly communicated to achieve better One Health outcomes.

Canada is committed to using a One Health approach to fight AMR. An example in action is the annual Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (CARSS) Report. The CARSS report provides integrated analysis of data from Canada’s AMR and antimicrobial use surveillance systems across the human and agricultural sectors.

FoodNet Canada and the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) are two programs that provide a picture of the complex relationship among antimicrobial resistant organisms, such as bacteria, the environment, and the health of humans and animals.

We all have a responsibility to make wise choices and safeguard our ability to effectively treat infections in the future. More information on the safe use of antimicrobial drugs is available at

Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer

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