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Androulla Vassiliou

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health

Speech at the launch of the 1st European Antibiotic Awareness Day

Speech at the launch of the 1st European Antibiotic Awareness Day.
EP Strasbourg, 18 November 2008

I am very pleased to be here today for the launch of the first European Antibiotic Awareness Day.

I am equally pleased to note that this positive initiative is being marked by activities in most of the Member States.

This event, organised by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, aims to draw the attention and raise awareness of European citizens to the fact that even very beneficial drugs like antibiotics can become a serious threat to health, if they are not used in an appropriate way and to treat appropriate conditions.

Since their discovery and industrial production, antibiotics have radically changed the treatment and the outcome of bacterial communicable diseases.

However, over time, either because of the capacity of micro organisms to become immune to the effects of antibiotics, or because antibiotics have been used in an inappropriate way, we have seen an increasing emergence of microbes resistant to treatment.

It has long been recognised that antimicrobial resistance is a very serious problem for public health, which represents a major challenge for the future.

The Commission Strategy which aims to address this serious problem was launched 10 years ago.

Now is an appropriate time to update our approach, taking into account:

the findings of a number of Member States;

the lessons learned and the outcomes of projects funded under the EU Public Health Programme; and

the increased scientific knowledge provided by research.

The update of our strategy needs to happen soon, with the active participation of all relevant stakeholders.

Forthcoming efforts should be focussed on the following challenging issues:

Antibiotics should only be used when they are really necessary.

Today is the day to send this message to every EU citizen.

I plan to launch a Eurobarometer survey with the aim of gaining a better understanding of public attitudes towards antibiotics, with a view to identifying ways to reduce their misuse;

To improve the training of Health Care Professionals to prescribe antibiotics in the most appropriate way, according to scientific and evidence based guidelines;

To contain and limit the spread of the transmission of strains between persons, especially resistant strains, in health care settings and better evaluate the impact of activities related to infection control in medical settings;

The Commission will shortly make a proposal for a Council Recommendation, including measures to reduce and control hospital acquired infections, often linked to antimicrobial resistance.

To improve the monitoring already in place to follow antibiotic consumption and antimicrobial resistance and set up new monitoring systems to follow the effects on health of the reduction of antibiotic use, and to measure the burden of disease due to antimicrobial resistance and the economic costs to our health care systems;

To examine the issue of antimicrobials use in animals and in agriculture, especially for those antimicrobials that are used to treat infections in human medicine and veterinary medicine, in order to identify further appropriate control options;

To support research on the potential impact of antimicrobial use in food, animal and crop production on the emergence or prevalence of antimicrobial infection in humans; on the mechanism for resistance transfer; and on developments of novel therapeutic tools.

To achieve these ambitious goals, we have several tools at our disposal:

The results of our second report on the implementation by Member States of the Council Recommendation on the prudent use of antibiotics are expected in 2009.

This will help us and the Member States to understand better how much has been achieved and what still needs to be done.

Most Member States have already sent their replies to be included in the report. This report will need to be carefully considered in the Council and by the European Parliament.

As I have mentioned, the Commission is finalising a proposal for a Council Recommendation on Health Care Associated Infections which is complementary to the strategy against Antimicrobial Resistance.

I hope this proposal will be given the appropriate urgent treatment by both the Council and the Parliament.

We will use the opportunities offered by the EU Public Health Programme in forthcoming years to fund new and efficient projects to help to tackle the prominent issues identified – particularly to help with the exchange of best practice between Member States on training for health professionals; information to the public; and on infection control tool kits which have been shown to produce reductions in infection.

These priorities have been included in the work plan for the EU Health Programme in 2009, allowing financing of projects in the area, which I hope will be forthcoming from relevant stakeholders, in particular health professionals' organisations and health care bodies.

The control of antimicrobial resistance is an issue where the sectors of human medicine, veterinary medicine and agriculture are all closely interrelated.

For this reason, my Services are working in close collaboration with the Commission's Directorates General for Enterprise, Agriculture, Research and Development, Justice and Environment, in order to strengthen the inter-sectoral approach.

The European Agencies: ECDC, EFSA and EMEA are all fully involved in this process.

However, these tools will not be sufficient by themselves, given the national responsibility in the field of Public Health.

We will only be able to tackle the threat of antimicrobial resistance effectively if every Member State fully supports and implements the strategies against AMR.

I am grateful to the successive Council Presidencies who have chosen to make AMR one of their priorities.

The conferences organised by Slovenia and France and the conferences planned by the Czech Republic and Sweden provide us with a promising momentum to maximise our prospects of success.

Concrete progress to better protect health within the EU cannot be achieved without the active involvement of citizens, health professionals and public authorities.

I can ensure you that I am fully committed to pursuing this issue, and I would welcome in particular the support of the European Parliament to make sure that we continue to work together to reduce the threat posed by antimicrobial resistance.

Thank you.

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