New policy brief on tackling antibiotic resistance provides policy guidance using a cultural contexts approach

Niels Fietje

Understanding how cultural factors shape the use, transmission and regulation of antibiotics can help improve the fight against antibiotic resistance (ABR), argues a new WHO policy brief launched today. ABR is a critical contemporary global health challenge. By helping to recast ABR as a social and cultural as well as a biological issue, the policy brief broadens the basis for possible policy intervention and action to reduce ABR.

ABR policy interventions often focus on the dissemination of scientific knowledge to prescribers and potential antibiotic users. Although important, this approach does not sufficiently account for the ways ABR is embedded within sociocultural beliefs, policies and practices.

Using a cultural contexts of health (CCH) approach to understand ABR could help improve policy effectiveness and ABR outcomes. This might involve developing training mechanisms to empower general practitioners to engage in challenging conversations with their patients; understanding how changes in food culture can potentially increase resistance, such as the growing popularity of probiotics; and using participatory mapping and other ethnographic methods to visualize the full range of processes and practices that shape transmission.

This is the second policy brief commissioned by the WHO CCH project with the aim of giving practical guidance to policy-makers on using CCH approaches for key public health issues. The brief is authored by Dr Katie Ledingham, Dr Felicity Thomas, Professor Stephen Hinchcliffe and Professor Mark Jackson of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health at the University of Exeter (United Kingdom), and Professor Göran Tomson of the Karolinska Institute (Sweden).

Dr Claudia Stein, Director of the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation at WHO/Europe, commented: “This policy brief shows the wide range of sociocultural beliefs and practices driving antibiotic use and consumption and ABR transmission in different settings, and the importance of understanding these cultural contexts in designing policies to mitigate ABR. In doing so, the brief underscores the value of WHO/Europe’s ongoing support for the CCH project, which provides important qualitative evidence for policy.”

Professor Mark Jackson, Director of the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health and Co-Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health, added: “This policy brief clearly illustrates the value of a CCH approach for policy-makers, since it allows us to understand and contextualize some of the key issues related to ABR, and also to address other complex global health challenges.”