On 10 February 2016, European Ministers of Health and Agriculture were invited by the Netherlands Presidency of the EU Council to a Ministerial Conference on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in Amsterdam. The Ministers discussed the scale and urgency of the crisis facing health systems around the world. For the fight against AMR to be successful, the most important element is coordinated international action, not least at the EU level. Dutch Minister of Agriculture Martijn van Dam made it clear that “national efforts alone are not enough”.

by Sascha Marschang

Edith Schippers, the Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sports, stressed the importance political commitment at the highest level, “fighting AMR is not about competencies, but about political will (…) to take real action.”

The ‘One Health’ approach to tackling antimicrobial resistance in people, animals and the environment was addressed by both European Health Commissioner Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis and by Minister van Dam. Both called for measures to ensure more prudent use of antimicrobials, innovation to tackle the spread of AMR, and stimulating research and development of new types of antimicrobials. Commissioner Andriukaitis announced his intention to establish a One Health AMR Network, bringing together national experts from the veterinary and human health domains, as well as actors from the environmental field.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, provided a global perspective highlighting the importance of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Organisation for Animal Health, and emphasising the increasingly globalised context of travel and trade, in which drug-resistant infections can quickly spread around the world. According to the WHO, there are multiple areas where improvements are to be made in order for the One Health approach to be successful. Dr Chan called for new incentives for taking action to improve monitoring, control and drug development.

The Ministers discussed policy recommendations including those to minimise antibiotic use in livestock and to improve infection control. The Dutch Presidency published a factsheet on incentives for antibiotic drug discovery, including tax policies that encourage antibiotic R&D, the launch of a global AMR observatory, and a change in the role of the European Joint Programming Initiative.

Europe can play a critical role here. Both as a major consumer of antimicrobial agents and as a region with some impressive examples of best practice. Europe could provide a blueprint for the rest of the world and lead the charge for international policy action. To get real results in time to head off the looming public health emergency, Europe needs to go beyond mere recommendations and towards binding legislation and policies, and by determining concrete targets and guidelines for national and regional levels.

The Ministerial conference was an important prelude to the informal and formal European Council meetings this year, where AMR will stay on the Ministers’ agenda. It remains to be seen if Council Conclusions in June will further develop the ideas raised to achieve effective change.

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