Antibiotic Resistance. Ideas Worth Spreading in an Innovative Way

Antibiotic Resistance. Ideas Worth Spreading in an Innovative Way

01.8.2016

I was lucky enough to give a talk at the TEDx Sant Cugat 2016 event (...) about  the resistance that many bacteria are developing to antibiotic drugs

On 7 July last, I was lucky enough to take part in an experience that proved to be intense, challenging and enriching, and also—no reason to lie—involved a large dose of stress.  

And no, I didn’t go bungee jumping or dive out of an airplane with a parachute, I gave a talk at the TEDx Sant Cugat 2016 event entitled "Consiente-mente".

In eighteen minutes—the maximum time allowed for TEDx talks—my task was to tell the real story about the problems we face today owing to the resistance that many bacteria are developing to antibiotic drugs and the worrying implications of this phenomenon for public health. The challenge was not only to convey the facts as clearly and simply as possible, which is essential in any public address, but to do so in the TED format, that is, with minimal support from slides while trying to be somewhat original. And, of course, in the knowledge that the talk was being recorded live and that the resulting video would be uploaded to YouTube; in the knowledge that there would no second chances.

Some 700,000 people die every year from infections caused by resistant bacteria  

Once I had accepted the challenge, it was time to enter the ring. I decided to start my talk by throwing out a few questions to make the public think about the important role played by antibiotics in the surgical interventions that most of us have undergone at some time in our lives.  After that, I went on to introduce the first protagonist of this story, Alexander Fleming, and his great discovery—penicillin—a discovery that marked the beginning of the antibiotic age in the mid-twentieth century. Then, I introduced the other key players—the bacteria—and explained how essential they are to human life, their role in many life processes, and the existence of pathogenic bacteria that can be harmful to our bodies.

At this juncture, I introduced the concept of antibiotic resistance and the shocking statistics on its global impact: some 700,000 people die every year from infections caused by resistant bacteria and it is estimated that, if nothing changes, this figure will reach 10 million by 2050. From this point on until the end of my talk, I concentrated on raising awareness about how we can contribute to slowing the advance of this hidden threat, with particular emphasis on what each one of us can do.  As individuals, we can, among other things, make more rational use of antibiotics and avoid self-medication. The problem has another dimension, which contributes significantly to the emergence of resistance: the use of antibiotics in the agricultural and livestock industries and fish farms, especially when they are used to increase production by preventing infections. To conclude my talk, I warned about the current lack of antibiotics which are effective against resistant bacteria and the urgent need to invest in R&D to discover new molecules capable of combating these pathogens. 

As individuals, we can, among other things, make more rational use of antibiotics and avoid self-medication

This is how I used my 18 minutes to try to impress upon the audience the extent of the problem of antibiotic resistance, making use of a few metaphors I created for the occasion (something the TED philosophy demands!). As soon as I saw the work created by the Dibu2pia illustrator during the four-hour TEDx event, I knew that the effort had been worthwhile.  The artist immortalised the ideas she considered most important from each of the nine speakers in an immense mural and, as you can see from the following picture, I could not wish for a better summary: Clear and to the point!

 

Apart from this piece of evidence, two other things also indicated that the message had got through. The first, and most immediate, was the reaction of the many members of the audience who came to tell me how much the message about the scale and the implications of antibiotic resistance had impressed them. Many of them shared personal experiences and stories about people they knew involving the misuse of antibiotics.

Many members of the audience came to tell me how much the message about the scale and the implications of antibiotic resistance had impressed them

The second confirmation, just as immediate or even more so (although I was unaware of it until a few hours later when I looked at my Twitter account), was the number of messages about my talk tweeted and retweeted by people at the event. I was very happy to see tweets such as "Resistant bacteria could cause + deaths than cancer causes today", "Only take antibiotics on prescription and always complete the full course of treatment", and "Abuse of antibiotics reduces their effectiveness. We create resistance. A huge danger to our own health". I was happy not just because these people had captured the message I wanted to convey, but also because these ideas had already been, were being and are still are being disseminated on the Internet, reaching more people every day and creating greater public awareness about the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Mission accomplished!

TEDx 'La resistencia antibiótica: una amenaza oculta'

More information

Antibiotic Resistance Initiative