Pharmaceutical strategy must address antimicrobial resistance, MEPs urge

AMR is a deadly threat that claims 750,000 lives globally, including 33,000 annual deaths in the EU.  [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Thirty European Parliament lawmakers have written to Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides calling for the EU pharmaceutical strategy to integrate the development of, and access to, affordable and quality antimicrobials in a sustainable environment.

The letter, sent on Tuesday (6 October), provides recommendations on how antimicrobial resistance (AMR) should be tackled in the upcoming EU pharmaceutical Strategy.

The strategy, expected to be adopted by the end of the year, aims to create a future-proof pharmaceutical regulatory framework which addresses long-standing health challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

The misuse and overuse of antibiotics in the past decades has led some microorganisms, also called ‘superbugs’, to develop antimicrobial resistance, meaning that medicines become less effective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.

“AMR is a key cross-border health issue for Europe and the world. This silently growing pandemic is already affecting our health today and will increasingly do so in the future. Without effective action, AMR will take us back to a pre-antibiotic age when death by infection was much more common,” the letter reads. 

AMR currently claims 750,000 lives globally, including 33,000 annual deaths in the EU.  It is expected to become a bigger killer than cancer by 2050. 

It is also responsible for an annual economic loss estimated at around €1.5 billion, and the World Bank has estimated that AMR could push 28 million people into extreme poverty by 2050 with an annual economic impact of more than $1 trillion after 2030.

AMR: Foodborne superbugs harder to beat, EU agencies say

Foodborne bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. Coli are getting harder to treat as they are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics used to beat them, two EU agencies warned in a report published on Tuesday (3 March).

“The number of antimicrobials used in animals and in the health sector has led to one of the greatest global problems we’re faced with today, which is anti-microbial resistance (AMR), impacting human health,” the Health and Food Safety Commissioner Kyriakides said recently.

The letter emphasises that AMR is a key area where European citizens expect firm European action, as it cannot be tackled efficiently at the national level.

It therefore calls on the EU to play a bigger role in multilateral discussions to address shortages of antibiotics which can force treatment providers to prescribe, as an alternative, broad-spectrum antibiotics that hasten the development of resistance. 

The EU should also ensure diversity of supply, promote joint procurement practices, and rethink economic models, it states. 

To achieve this, signatories call for the Pharmaceutical Strategy to be a “stepping stone to an ambitious regulation that would address human, animal, and environmental health in a ‘One Health’ approach”.

They add that this must include non-pharmaceutical aspects such as monitoring and surveillance, infection prevention and control, and access to rapid and affordable diagnostic tools.

Green MEP Sarah Wiener, one of the signatories of the letter, told EURACTIV that it is “high time for the Commission to focus attention on prevention activities across sectors – from agriculture to public health – and promote research into alternatives to reduce our dependence on antibiotics whose effectiveness is dangerously decreasing”.

EU health agenda: More than Corona

The EU executive is expected to finally get to the heart of its five-year health agenda with the unveiling of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the much-awaited pharmaceutical strategy. The launch of both initiatives was confirmed for the fourth quarter of 2020 in the Commission’s latest working programme.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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