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TEDx talk on antibiotic resistance

By Shaun Holt

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks are an internet phenomenon, with well over a billion online views of the free videos, which can be seen on YouTube and other sites. The aim of the talks is to present "Ideas Worth Spreading" and speakers have up to 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most engaging ways they can. Past speakers include Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Richard Dawkins, Bono and many Nobel Prize winners.

TEDx is an international community that organizes TED-style events. It is a huge honour to be asked to speak at an event and I was lucky enough to do so in March. The event was unique in that those lucky enough to get tickets (the event sold out in 2 minutes) did not know the venue until they arrived in blacked-out buses, or who the speakers were until they took the stage. The TEDx venue was at Peter Jackson’s private theatre in Miramar, Wellington and was the first time a public event has been hosted there.

My talk was not only about an idea worth spreading, but a food that we should be spreading on our bodies to help treat medical conditions such as acne, rosacea and even use on our wounds after surgery. That food was honey. I made the case that doing so could not only help people with these conditions but also be a great export product for New Zealand and that it could actually help to tackle the world’s most important health problem - antibiotic resistance.

The World Health Organization has described antibiotic resistance as “a threat to global health security”. The economic and human costs are already huge and are growing. Each year it causes tens of thousands of deaths, millions of infections and reports suggest that by the year 2050 antimicrobial resistance could be the cause of 300 million premature deaths and lead to a $100 trillion loss to the global economy.

I spoke about the research showing that the unique properties of honey means that it can fight infection on multiple levels, making it almost impossible for micro-organisms to develop resistance. Medical honey kills bugs using a combination of weapons including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect (dehydration) and high sugar concentrations.

The key strategies for combatting antibiotic resistance are reducing the amount of antibiotics we use and using alternatives to antibiotics whenever possible. This reduces the rate at which bugs become resistant to them and will give us more time to develop new ones. Antibiotics are widely used for skin diseases, for example, although less than 1% of physicians are dermatologists they write almost 5% of antibiotic prescriptions. In the USA alone there are around 10 million antibiotic prescriptions per year for skin diseases.

You can watch the video at