Just 70 years after their introduction Europe faces a future without effective antibiotics. At the launch of this year’s European Antibiotic Awareness Day there was a broad consensus from a range of EU actors that something must be done to reverse this trend.

European Antobiotic Awareness Day is a European public health initiative that aims to provide a platform and support for national campaigns about prudent antibiotic use. It is marked each year during the week of 18 November.

The theme of this year’s Antobiotic Awareness Day was promoting prudent use of antibiotics in hospitals. Misuse of antibiotics in hospitals is one of the main factors driving the development of antibiotic resistance and has led to the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA in hospitals.

The event was hosted by Marina Yannakoudakis MEP (UK, ECR) together with the Director of the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) Dr Marc Sprenger. The ECDC chose the theme of antibiotic use in hospitals after a study conducted by the University of Antwerp across 23 countries showed that there was a need for improvement. Since no one measure alone can ever eradicate antibiotic resistance, other ways of tackling the problem were also discussed. These ranged from simple measures such as improving hand hygiene in health professionals to decreasing antibiotic usage in animals and the food supply chain, and even usage on trees.

Antibiotics are frequently over-used – often due to a misunderstanding on the part of patients as to their purpose. For example, despite the fact that antibiotics are useless against viruses, one third of Europeans questioned in a Eurobarometer survey have used them for that reason. Part of the objective of European Antibiotic Awareness Day is to raise awareness of overconsumption. Member States are encouraged to conduct national campaigns, and they are provided with evidence, messages, templates and a TV spot from the ECDC. Eric Poudelet, Director for Safety of the Food Chain and AMR coordinator at DG SANCO said that European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli considers antibiotic resistance a “major public health threat”. He will propose a new overall strategy to combat antibiotic resistance in time for next years Antibiotic Awareness day.

Ruxandra Draghia-Akli of the European Commission’s DG Research added that this is also one of their priority areas. They are funding research through a number of streams, including one co-funded by the pharmaceutical industries.

The Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) groups used the opportunity to encourage the EU and its Member States to begin to look at investing in other ways of preventing and treating infectious illness that are more sustainable and which work to strengthen the immune systems of living beings to be more resistant to infection. Stephen Gordon, Secretary General of the European Central Council of Homeopaths said that ‘Homeopathy and other CAM approaches have an important and essential role to play in a future healthcare where antibiotics can be used less – thereby maintaining their potency for when they are truly needed.’

Related links

ECDC Antibiotic site

Parliament Magazine article

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