ROME -– Antimicrobial resistance poses a “great challenge” to global public health and puts the most vulnerable in our society at risk, said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“Our time is running out, and we must act to initiate and animate the necessary behavior change to strengthen awareness and action on infection prevention and control and (to) promote the appropriate stewardship of antimicrobials,” he said in a message for World Antibiotics Awareness Week.

World Antibiotics Awareness Week, which took place Nov. 12-18 this year, aims to “increase global awareness of antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policymakers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance,” according to the official website of the awareness initiative, organized by the World Health Organization.

The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance, also referred to as AMR, occurs when microbes, such as bacteria, become resistant to the drugs used to treat them. While antibiotics saves millions of lives and alleviate much illness and suffering, “the persistent overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human and animal health have encouraged the emergence and spread of AMR,” it said.

The problem is growing worse, and those most vulnerable to life-threatening infections, such as women giving birth and newborns, are at risk as it becomes difficult to safeguard their health and well-being, the cardinal said in his message, published by the Vatican Nov. 17.

“Tens of thousands of church-sponsored health care institutions and education centers and other faith-based organizations are well-positioned to encourage ongoing support, mobilize individual and community action and advance social and medical practices to combat the emergence and spread of AMR,” said the cardinal.

Some ways faith-based groups could help in this fight, the cardinal said, include: enhancing awareness and education methods; creating understanding of the individual and community impact of misuses of medication without medical oversight; building trust within the community to enhance surveillance and improve infection prevention; and enabling reliable and sustainable access to and use of water, sanitation and hygiene.