Cambridge Mask Interviews Isabella Aitchison, Medical Student And Founder Of The Trinity AMR Action Group

Cambridge Mask is about more than just providing people with the means to go about their daily lives with peace of mind. We’re also about getting behind initiatives and causes that we believe in; causes we know are to the betterment of the population and the planet. Quite recently our CEO and founder, Christopher Dobbing, attended the WAAW (World Antimicrobial Awareness Week) in Geneva, gifting all in attendance a Cambridge Mask PRO to create awareness around the importance of access to quality air while also lending full support to the cause itself. It’s incredibly easy to overlook an event of this nature; it doesn’t get much press and it should. The truth of the matter is that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a serious issue, and one with major pending consequences, so much so, that it’s been estimated that come 2050, 10 million people would have died because of antimicrobial resistance – the process whereby microbes develop defence mechanisms against antimicrobials – a typical example would be an antibiotic’s inability to stave off a disease. More recently we had the pleasure of talking to Isabella Aitchison, a medical student at Trinity College Cambridge.  Isabella is the founder of the Trinity AMR Action Group, and she recently took time out her busy schedule to chat to Cambridge Mask Co. about her experiences and views on AMR.

Q: When did you first learn about AMR?

Isabella: I first learnt about AMR in GCSE biology, however it was more of a side note in the syllabus and I quickly forgot about it. I only properly became aware of AMR after attending a talk by Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on AMR, while at university. I remember thinking why this is not being discussed more in the media and within education. It is as big a danger to humanity as climate change but does not receive a fraction of the same attention.

Q: How has AMR affected your life growing up?

Isabella: Firstly, when I was 7 my mother was very ill with sepsis in hospital. It had gone undiagnosed for a while and when she eventually went to hospital she was admitted into critical care. Sepsis occurs when bacteria enter your bloodstream. It causes a huge drop in blood pressure and can eventually lead to failure of major organs such as your kidney, liver, heart and lungs. To treat sepsis, the correct antibiotic for the type of bacteria involved must be found. This was very difficult for the doctors involved, up to the point that my grandparents were asked to come and say goodbye to her. Thankfully, a doctor was able to find and administer the correct antibiotic in time to save her life. However, she would not be here if this antibiotic had become ineffective due to AMR. Secondly, when my sister was 3 she cut her foot on some broken glass. The cut became infected, she would wake up screaming in the night and wasn’t able to walk. You could see the infection progressing up her foot. We rang the doctor, and she was given a course of antibiotics to take. She finished the course, and her foot was completely fine again apart from a scar. Without these antibiotics she would have had to have her foot amputated to prevent the infection spreading around more of her body. I owe so much to antibiotics, and it scares me to think of a world where we did not have these.

Q: What motivated you to found Trinity AMR Action Group?

Isabella: I was driven to found Trinity AMR Action Group after hearing Dame Sally Davies speak about the threat of AMR, thinking about the role antibiotics have played in my own life and learning how little most students know about AMR. It is estimated that by 2050, AMR will result in 10 million deaths annually if strategies are not implemented to prevent it. This would make AMR a larger killer than cancer globally. I wanted to make this threat known to more people so that we can work together to combat it.

Q: Why is community engagement particularly important in addressing antimicrobial resistance?

Isabella: It is important that people are aware of the problem, otherwise there will be no drive to combat it. Everyone has a role to play in preventing the emergence of AMR, even if it is just reducing infections in the first place, for example by mask wearing and washing hands, or following your doctors’ instructions when prescribed antibiotics. If more people care about AMR, more organisations will change their policies to reflect this, as we have seen in the battle against climate change.

cambridge mask co at trinity college

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge in addressing antimicrobial resistance?

Isabella: AMR is a very multifactorial problem, and it is difficult to say which factor plays the biggest role, but I believe that the lack of profitability in antibiotic development, reflected in the discovery of no new classes of antibiotics since the 1980s, has had a significant role. It costs about $1.5 billion to develop a new antibiotic but you only get back about $46 million per year which simply means antibiotics are not worth investing in. If more and more of the antibiotics we are using are becoming useless and no new antibiotics are being developed this will inevitably lead to lots of infections that are untreatable.

Q: What are you most proud of in regards of what you have accomplished in your role at Trinity AMR Action Group so far?

Isabella: I am most proud of the AMR student guide we have created. The Student Guide is a comprehensive document, aimed at university students, with information about how they can act to reduce the development of AMR. Things which are covered in the guide include how students can make personal changes to their lifestyle to reduce AMR and education about the causes of AMR on a micro and macro-scale. There is also a letter included with the guide which can be sent to the student’s institution, aiming to spread awareness about AMR and increase policy aimed at reducing its development within our communities. Upon its expected completion in 2022, we plan to have it distributed locally within the University of Cambridge and then distribute it to Universities around the UK.

Q: What would you like to accomplish in the future?

Isabella: The Trinity AMR Action Group will continue to strive towards our aim of improving AMR (antimicrobial resistance) awareness in the Student Body in Cambridge, and we also hope to take this to a national level by reaching other students in the UK. To do this, we aim to ally and cooperate with other health and science-based organisations such as Students for Global Health and the WHO to further our campaigns and help increase our voice against AMR development. Following the success of our recent WAAW 2021 campaign, we believe there is still much more we can do in the future, but this is a good indication of our potential and what we can achieve going ahead.

Q: Antimicrobial resistance is continuing to increase worldwide, threatening global health. What more can stakeholders, policymakers, health care providers, and the general public do to spread awareness about AMR?

Isabella: Whilst we believe that more people are becoming aware of antimicrobial resistance in their day-to-day lives, there is still more that can be done on a macro-scale. Stakeholders should leverage for more accountability by companies on their AMR policies, especially in companies that have direct links to causes of AMR such as in food production lines and farming practices. We also believe that whilst there have been great improvements in UK policies regarding AMR, there is still difficulty at the present time in meeting these goals. For example, the English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance (ESPAUR) has found that whilst there has been a general decrease in antibiotic use from 2015-2019, in certain sectors of healthcare such as hospital and other community settings, there has been a rise in antibiotic use. Healthcare providers in sectors more afflicted with AMR could put greater emphasis on preventing AMR and policymakers may consider a more targeted approach for future AMR policies. The COVID-19 Pandemic has taught and reminded people about basic hygiene techniques such as handwashing. We believe that going forwards, it would be best to remember these techniques and continue implementing them in daily life as it not only protects against COVID-19 but will also reduce the need for antimicrobials and the development of AMR.

Disclaimer: Cambridge Mask is not a medical website. For any medical questions or advice, please consult a doctor or professional medical advisor.  

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