Brussels, 18 November 2009
Commission paper lays foundations of discussion to tackle the problem of anti-microbial resistance
The European Commission presents today a staff working paper that aims to be the basis of discussion on the ways to better tackle the growing health problem of anti-microbial resistance (AMR). Each year about 25,000 patients die in the EU from infections caused by micro-organisms that have developed resistance to antimicrobial medicines1. It is also estimated that every year AMR costs 1.5 billion euros in healthcare expenses and productivity losses2. The Commission's document provides an overview of the activities already undertaken by the European Union to address the AMR problem and identifies areas where further reflection could help the efforts to come up with solutions. It concludes that, although progress has been made in certain areas, further actions are needed to improve the assessment and management of AMR.
Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said: "Over the years, microbes have evolved and have become stronger thus making available treatments less effective. Serious diseases that were believed to be under control are re-emerging with a vengeance. The document published today, on the European Antibiotic Awareness Day, offers good food for thought. It lays the foundations for an open discussion that I hope will lead to concrete measures to combat AMR, which has turned into one of the most serious health risks in Europe."
The working paper outlines the EU actions in terms of monitoring AMR and its risk assessment and risk management and highlights the complexity of AMR and its links to: public health, the control/eradication of zoonoses, animal health and welfare, research activities etc.
Among the specific actions, i.e. in the area of human medicine, the paper points out that the Commission has funded several European monitoring projects that provided valuable and comparable data on the burden of disease and resistance across Europe. In the field of food safety and veterinary medicine the use of antimicrobial veterinary products is prohibited by Community legislation as a specific method to control salmonella in poultry and tuberculosis in cattle.
Furthermore, the paper notes that the European Commission has given high priority to research and has invested more than 200 million euros over the past 10 years through its Framework Programmes.
Food for thought
In the area of risk management for human medicine, the Commission welcomes reflections on the adoption of strategy and action plans and the establishment of intersectorial coordinating mechanisms in all Member States. As to zoonoses control, reflections are welcome on ways to ensure the prudent use of antimicrobials in animal husbandry and on targeted interventions that would concern rules on the absence of resistant zoonotic agents in food.
In terms of monitoring activities in human medicine, the paper notes that thought could be given to the improvement of the surveillance system for AMR and the use of antimicrobials and to improving access to data and information.
The paper also deals with communication issues and notes that ideas would be welcome on how to further educate the general public on AMR and on how to improve the awareness, education and training of health professionals in human and veterinary medicine.
The Commission underlines that the staff working paper does not represent its official position and that the ideas expressed do not prejudge the form and content of any future Commission proposal.
Antimicrobials are essential as medicines for human and animal health welfare and as disinfectants, antiseptics and hygiene products. Since their discovery they have substantially decreased the threat posed by various infectious diseases.
However, over the years microbes have evolved and have become resistant to some of the antimicrobial medicines. Microbial resistance is now most evident in hospital-acquired infections, respiratory tract infections, meningitis, diarrhoeal diseases and sexually transmitted infections. Resistant microbes or resistance determinants may be transferred from animals to humans via the food chain or through direct contact.
Since the 1990s, when AMR recognised as a serious threat to public health, the Commission has launched different initiatives has developed tools to monitor the effect of these actions. In June 2008, the Health Council adopted conclusions on AMR calling the Commission to promote mutual cooperation between all Directorates General and concerned Agencies and to facilitate cooperation between the Member States on aspects of AMR.
The full text of the staff working paper can be found at:
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2 EMEA/ECDC estimates based on bacteria most frequently isolated from blood cultures in Europe