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EU governments commit to tackle antimicrobial resistance

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i3458 (Published 20 June 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i3458
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

Health ministers of European Union countries have given a strong political commitment to reducing the use of antibiotics in humans and animals. Meeting in Luxembourg on 17 June, they endorsed a call for all 28 countries to have national action plans against antimicrobial resistance in place by the middle of next year.

They agreed that national action plans should include measurable qualitative or quantitative goals to reduce infections and cut use of antimicrobials in humans and animals. They also agreed that there was a need to consider how legislation relevant to antimicrobial resistance was enforced and emphasised the importance of educational and public awareness campaigns.

The health ministers’ agreement also emphasised the importance of dialogue with the drug industry to keep existing effective antimicrobials that are used in human and veterinary medicine on the market and to explore alternative solutions.

The EU is developing a new antimicrobial resistance action plan to replace the existing one, which ends this year. The new one, the health ministers said, should also have measurable goals and will promote EU-wide surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in humans, food, animals, and the environment.

The Dutch government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has made reducing antibiotic use one of the main goals of its six month chairmanship of European health ministers’ meetings, drawing on its own success in tackling antimicrobial resistance.

Drug resistant infections kill 25 000 people every year in Europe, the European Commission said. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has estimated the global number of deaths to be 700 000 and has warned that the economic impact of antimicrobial resistance could amount to 0.03% of gross domestic product in OECD countries by 2020.

The health ministers’ commitment coincided with publication of a Eurobarometer survey into antimicrobial resistance, which showed a 6% fall in antibiotic use in recent years, although more than a third of Europeans had taken them in the previous year. The survey also highlighted the low level of knowledge of antimicrobials, with a majority (57%) of those questioned unaware that antibiotics were ineffective against viruses.

Commenting on the survey findings, the EU health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said, “I would like the EU to be the best practice region in the field of antimicrobial resistance, giving a stronger push to research for the development of new antibiotics, as well as alternatives to antimicrobials. The EU should also continue its global involvement in fighting antimicrobial resistance.” As part of that effort, the EU is pressing to place the issue on the agenda of the United Nations’ general assembly in September.

At their Luxembourg meeting the EU health ministers also committed themselves to considering how to improve food quality in Europe and to cooperate with relevant authorities and payers to achieve “higher affordability and better access to medicinal products.”

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