A social science approach to tackling antimicrobial resistance

This World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, Dr Esmita Charani discusses co-developing a Massive Open Online Course on how a social science perspective can fight the problem of antimicrobial resistance.


As part of an ESRC funded international research programme investigating antibiotic use in surgical care, we had the opportunity to collaborate with another ESRC funded research team at the University of Oxford to develop an e-learning course to share the learning from the methods we used and the findings of our work.

Partnering with the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (BSAC), we developed a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), focusing on how we can use qualitative research to capture what challenges healthcare workers face in optimising antibiotic use in different countries. Working with our international collaborators and colleagues, we brought together a multidisciplinary expert faculty.

It was important to include early career researchers who were delivering the research in the different settings, including South Africa and India. The course was launched in 2019 to give them a platform to showcase their work. The MOOC was originally planned to be accessible three times a year. Learners could access it for free and it takes three weeks (6-8 hours of screen time per week) to finish the course. Since the pandemic, the MOOC has been made available continuously. To date, the course has had 3000 learners from over 150 countries. We are in the process of updating the content to include the most recent research from our group.

Throughout the course, there were opportunities for interacting with the learners and discuss the challenges they face in their settings to optimise antibiotic use. This exercise of interaction between the learners and course educators provided an opportunity for gathering diverse experiences of healthcare workers in different countries and how they have managed to work around these challenges

In many parts of the world persisting ill-defined roles for pharmacists and nurses limit the involvement of these critical healthcare professional groups in activities targeting improvement of antibiotic use. There is also a gap in how behaviours and prescribing practices are supported through evidence-based policies. Consistent data on antibiotic consumption and antimicrobial resistance is lacking in most countries. Without this data it is difficult to be able to influence change. To change practices we must first be able to measure them

Additionally, we need to think broadly and bring in all the different specialties that work in healthcare settings, including surgeons. The use of technology to support healthcare workers is lagging and many people are still behind in having access to the right tools to help them optimise their decisions, including prescribing systems and diagnostic tests to identify the infections in a timely manner.

Dr Esmita Charani is the Research Lead for Practice, Design and Engineering at the National Institute of Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance

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