Data shows that some drug-resistant infections are on the rise in Canada. Already, in hospitals alone, about 18,000 Canadians contract resistant infections every year.
In our audit of antimicrobial resistance, we found that Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada have not done enough to help contain the proliferation of drug-resistant organisms.
Health Canada has not taken some important steps to protect the effectiveness of antimicrobials used for treating serious infections in humans. Though the Department requires a prescription for human use in the case of most of these drugs, the same requirement does not always apply for food animals. While antimicrobials have important veterinary uses, their imprudent use can lead to the spread of drug-resistant organisms through the food chain.
Health Canada is aware that gaps in the regulations make it possible for farmers to import unlicensed antimicrobial drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients for use in their own animals, but the Department has not acted to strengthen control over importation.
We also found that the Public Health Agency of Canada is not collecting all the surveillance information needed to understand the scope of resistance and the extent of antimicrobial use in Canada. For example, though the Agency collects information about drugs sold in Canada for use in food animals, it does not collect data on veterinary antimicrobials imported directly into the country.
In 1997, the federal government first articulated the need for a pan-Canadian strategy to address antimicrobial resistance and use. This need was reiterated in 2009, and the Agency acknowledged that stronger leadership was needed. There is currently no national strategy in place. In our view, it will likely be many years before one is implemented.