Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • Modern antibiotic medicines came into use in the middle of the 20th century. They enabled doctors to treat serious – and sometimes fatal – bacterial infections like strep throat and pneumonia. Prior to antibiotics, even simple cuts and grazes could be dangerous.

    Antimicrobial resistance: a major health issue

    In this Royal Society Te Apārangi video, microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles explains the growing health issues regarding antimicrobial resistance and what we can do to address the problem.

    Penicillin was approved for clinical use in humans in 1943. In 1944, resistance to penicillin was identified in the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. In 1945, Alexander Fleming (who discovered penicillin) warned that too small doses would educate microbes to resist penicillin rather than clear up the infection and that a host of “penicillin-fast organisms” could be passed to other individuals until they reach someone who penicillin cannot save.

    Fast forward a few decades – the World Health Organization considers antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to be one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity.

    Tackling infectious disease and AMR requires kotahitanga – unity, togetherness – across human, animal, plant, and environmental health, bringing everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand along on the journey.

    Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor

    Antimicrobial resistance – a wicked problem

    Wicked problems are problems that are incredibly complicated and difficult to solve. Often, wicked problems involve social, environmental, economic or political issues or combinations of each of these.

    People often consider antimicrobial resistance to be a human issue due to concerns about its effects on human health. However, it is the interconnectedness of humans, animals and ecosystems that makes antimicrobial resistance a wicked problem. For example, tetracyclines – a common antibiotic used in human and animal health – are often not fully metabolised by the body. On average, more than 75% of tetracyclines consumed by humans and livestock are released into the environment in an active form, usually via effluents. Environmental concentrations of tetracyclines have been found to trigger antimicrobial resistance in some parts of the world.

    Antimicrobial resistance is a global problem. Addressing the threat it poses requires action by governments, healthcare providers, veterinarians, horticulturists and livestock and poultry producers – as well as individuals.

    Rights: Ministry for Primary Industries

    Inappropriate antimicrobial use can lead to antimicrobial resistance

    When animals need antibiotics they must be used exactly as prescribed by a veterinarian to reduce the risk of resistance developing. If the wrong type or dose of antibiotic is given bacteria may develop resistance resulting in an infection that is difficult or impossible to treat. The resistant bacteria could spread to people, other animals or into the environment.

    Enhancing health and science literacy

    The New Zealand Government is acting to help reduce the risks posed by antimicrobial resistance. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser published the Infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance report. One recommendation is directed at educators:

    Investigate ways of engaging rangatahi and tamariki in AMR and infectious disease conversations through hui and workshops, resources, and curricula at primary, intermediate, and secondary level.

    Raising health and science literacy by learning about antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance can follow multiple pathways. Underlying science concepts include:

    • the immune system – cells, tissues and organs that work together to protect an organism
    • adaptation and evolution – how microorganisms change to develop resistance
    • vaccination – using an organism’s own immune system to protect it.

    Ākonga can build agency by learning about infectious disease and AMR and the links between individual action and community impact:

    • At primary and intermediate level, this may involve learning about microbes, the role of preventative techniques (for example, personal hygiene and vaccinations) and how our immune system protects us from disease.
    • At secondary level, ākonga build on this knowledge and consider the interconnections between humans, animals, plants and the wider environment and the impacts this has on encouraging or slowing disease and antimicrobial resistance.
    Rights: Health Quality & Safety Commission New Zealand

    Regional winner – ‘Fight Germs’

    Melody from Te Kāpehu Whetū in Northland was a regional winner in the 2018 Antibiotic awareness poster competition.

    Interactive planning pathways

    The planning map below provides a gateway to collections of articles, multimedia and student activities grouped by common themes or contexts. By using a combination of these resources, teachers can combine conceptual understanding and capabilities development into relevant learning experiences.

    Use this interactive image map to discover a range of resources about bacteria and antimicrobial resistance.

    Antimicrobial resistance – planning pathways

    Use this interactive to discover a range of resources about microorganisms and antimicrobial resistance. Select a label for more information.

    Go here for further information, including the transcript.

    Connections across multiple learning areas – mātaiaho

    Learning about antimicrobial resistance spans multiple learning areas, including:

    • science – exploring Living World concepts (life processes and evolution) and the science capabilities (using evidence and engaging with science)
    • mātauranga – using rongoā to fight infection and exploring holistic practices
    • health – taking individual and collective action for the care of one’s self and others
    • social sciences – exploring societal issues within Aotearoa and the world
    • sustainability – participating to create change/cultivate the wellbeing of our people and planet.

    Each learning area supports ākonga to get involved and take positive action, which can help them feel empowered and avoid becoming overwhelmed by the seriousness of this wicked problem.

    Related content

    Find out about the history of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance in this article and timeline.

    Find out what you can do to reduce the risks of antimicrobial resistance.

    Watch our webinar The science of superbugs – teaching antimicrobial resistance awareness in Aotearoa with Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

    In this recorded webinar, Dr Kristin Dyet talks about her role as a microbiologist and the importance of AMR awareness.

    The Hub team created the collection Antimicrobial resistance resources to support teaching and learning about AMR. It is ready for you to use and customise as you choose.

    Fighting infection – timeline looks at some of the historical aspects of fighting infection, covering early discoveries on germs, vaccination, how our bodies help us to get better and more. Explore the history of vaccination and immunisation in New Zealand.

    How honey heals wounds and From bees to bandages explain the antibacterial properties of honey.

    Bioactive milk proteins attack acne explains how bioactive proteins act as a powerful antimicrobial agent.

    The Science of Medicines – Whakatere Waka is an innovative community project that promotes scientific literacy regarding the use and understanding of medicines. The project has a gaming component – we’ve used several of their ideas in the activity Game design for viruses and vaccines. A second activity Viruses and immunity – interpreting infographics uses fact sheets they’ve created.

    Useful links

    The Ministry for Primary Industries website has information about antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial use in plants and animals in New Zealand.

    Royal Society Te Apārangi has produced a series of articles and videos about antimicrobial resistance, including te reo Māori resource He uaua ake te rongoā i ngā whakapokenga ātete rongoā.

    Find out more about the Infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance report from the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor released in March 2022. There are a series of recommendations under six themes to help Aotearoa New Zealand unite against the threat of infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance.

    The Ministry of Health has information and links on its website – Resources for antibiotic awareness.

    In this 2021 SpinOff article Why you should care about antimicrobial resistance Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris write about the serious threat of antimicrobial resistance with animated cartoons helping to explain more.


    This content has been developed in partnership with New Zealand Food Safety.

    Rights: Ministry for Primary Industries and New Zealand Food Safety

    Ministry for Primary Industries and New Zealand Food Safety logos

      Published 20 July 2023 Referencing Hub articles
          Go to full glossary
          Download all