Resistance to antimicrobials has grown into a top threat to human health worldwide, with the World Health Organization (WHO) first drawing wider public attention to it in November 2021. Antimicrobials include everyday antiseptic, antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic treatments, such as the disinfectants normally used to keep surfaces clean.
But WHO says both their misuse and overuse are driving drug-resistance in pathogens like viruses and bacteria, and it has called for urgent, multi-sectoral action, particularly if the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals around food safety and food security are to be met by 2030. These goals include ending hunger and improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture.
Kenya’s large dairy sector offers good opportunities to combat antimicrobial resistance but there are grave risks they might go undetected. The country’s Dairy Board says an average of 652.4 million liters of milk are produced annually, with earnings to producers estimated at 22.6 billion Kenya shillings (about $151 million). The sector, however, faces mutually reinforcing challenges, namely the dominance of small-scale, often unregulated producers, and the existence of antibiotic residue in milk, caused by some animal husbandry practices.
Teresia Ndung’u, Director for Livestock Production in Nyandarua County and a doctoral student at Kenya’s Egerton University, is among the Kenyans tackling this issue head-on, and devising solutions which, she says, will help bolster food safety in Kenya and East Africa as a whole.
“I had previously participated in a project known as Quality Based Milk Payment Systems, and antibiotic residues emerged as a real challenge to the processor and the consumer,” she said. “I came across a reagent able to detect whether micro-organisms were resistant.” Because she was working in a laboratory, she could ask to test samples of milk from different cows. She observed that the reagent did work, successfully detecting antibiotic resistance.