EU health chief: Commission is stepping up antimicrobial resistance fight

EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis. [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

The European Commission will increase pressure on the member states to better coordinate their national action plans to tackle antimicrobial resistance, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said in an interview with euractiv.com.

Vytenis Andriukaitis spoke with Sarantis Michalopoulos.

Are you concerned about the ceaseless rise of AMR on an EU level? Health NGOs claim that the 2011-2016 European Commission’s policy actions were not successful.

It’s an enormous problem, a massive threat, with severe consequences for the humankind.

I like the fact that sometimes NGOs are “maximising” things. They do a good job and we must always have watchdogs which are trying to motivate all of us.

But, let me point out that sometimes NGOs do not their homework well. I see there is a lack of awareness within the EU society.

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Why are you saying that?

I will tell you an example. We made yesterday (17 November) an experiment with three pharmacies around Schuman area in Brussels and we found that only these sell approximately 41 antibiotics packages per day and therefore, there is an awareness issue.

Considering that there are 5,000 pharmacies just in Belgium, almost 205,000 antibiotics packs are being sold every day. So my question toward the NGOs is why are so weak in our awareness days. We should not have only this day to inform and raise awareness. The awareness of people is number one. Misuse, overuse, and underuse of antibiotics are a huge problem. Who knows today how many people illegally purchase antibiotics without any prescription?

The evaluation of the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Action Plan (2011-2016) showed that it had a clear EU added value, as member states took several actions by adopting national plans and the international cooperation was enhanced. Last year, we [The Commission] issued guidelines on the use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine and next month we will do the same for the human medicine too. The evaluation also found that the Commission had invested more than €1 billion in research since 1999.

What is new regarding the post-2016 Action Plan on AMR?

There are three big areas. The first one is to continue with a renewed AMR Strategy for 2017-2022 with “one health approach” methodology taking center stage in every policy sector. We are asking all the sectors to deliver their part in the fight against AMR. Veterinary, human, and the environmental sector should make the EU practice a role model for the rest of the world.

In the second area, we will provide more activities and more money motivating research and developing new types of treatments, new vaccines, new rapid diagnostic tests, and new antibiotics. A big amount of money will be earmarked. Of course, we will also encourage the industry to keep its activities on board and to join its resources into public-private partnerships, to present new possibilities to treating infectious diseases.

Thirdly, we need to be very active in the international arena presenting the EU’s one-health approach at the UN level. Promoting common methodologies is essential and the EU aims to guarantee global action plans, rules, and procedures.

How will the Commission ensure proper coordination at the European level?

First of all, we put much pressure on the member states to present their national action plans and coordinate them in accordance with the European action plan.

These strategies should go together and be adjusted. Second, the Commission will introduce better coordination mechanisms that will oblige agriculture, health, environment ministers and local administration and operators like hospitals to introduce all the necessary measures to ensure the implementation of the guidelines.

Next month, as I told you, we will adopt guidelines for the proper use of antibiotics in human field. The guidelines will be presented to all countries which must follow and implement in real practice.