Antimicrobial resistance is the next global health challenge

“The sooner we act, the more damage we can prevent in the future”, says MEP Nicu Stefanuta

By Nicu Stefanuta

Nicu Stefanuta (Greens/EFA, ROM) is co-chair of the EP interest group on antimicrobial resistance

08 Dec 2023

Let’s think of it as it is: something global. We are talking about an ongoing fight with pathogens – organisms that can cause disease. Most of them are here to stay, due to mutations. This battle is not something that ends along with a pandemic. Falling behind the evolution of pathogens and not having enough instruments to combat it would be a disaster whose consequences I fail to imagine.

Let’s think of what inventing the first antibiotic meant for humankind. And now let’s imagine a world without antibiotics one day – vulnerable to infections with no help from such a trusted ally. It would not happen overnight but it would, in the long run, lead to higher medical costs, prolonged hospital stays, and increased mortality. Minor injuries would become life-threatening and common infections would have lethal consequences.

What has brought us here? Experts blame the excessive use of antibiotics, which involves both healthcare systems and consumers. The sooner we act, the more damage we can prevent in the future. There are several aspects and goals regarding antimicrobial resistance (AMR) that the Greens are focusing on right now, such as the prudent use of antibiotics in both animals and humans.

We also advocate for lowering the use of antibiotics in the agricultural sector and focusing on alternatives (such as opposing intensive farming, and introducing stricter measures for animal transports), and for lowering pharma residues in the environment with a focus on wastewater.

Other measures include the introduction of novel antibiotics and alternatives, for example vaccines and bacteriophage – micro-organisms that can be used to treat certain types of infections. Overall, we need a single collaborative health approach to AMR and global collaboration on the matter.

I am a supporter of international instruments and common strategies to tackle cross-border health threats and challenges. We saw how unprepared we were for Covid back in 2020 and how each EU country imposed its own measures, ultimately creating chaos. We must make sure that this never happens again.

Therefore, we must finance, in a suitable way, instruments and research programmes to prepare us for future health emergencies and health risks. Health emergency preparedness and response (HERA) is one initiative I fought for during the Covid pandemic, but we need more.

Minor injuries would become life-threatening and common infections would have lethal consequences

As a Union, we must not fall behind. We must consolidate international co-operation between Member States, the European Union as a whole, and its partners. Only through efficient health policies and innovation will we overcome future international health crises.

Scientists, doctors and politicians from all EU countries have realised there is no substitute for working together on common goals. Of course, this means we need more resources and new visions. It is exactly there that we can step in as health policymakers and shore up the functionality of health programmes in the European Parliament.

As for my country, Romania, the problems are very complex. Nevertheless, it all boils down to this: the lack of critical hospital infrastructure. Unfortunately, poorly managed and underfinanced hospitals create ideal conditions for hospital-acquired infections, providing the most favourable environments for new pathogens resistant to antibiotics. It’s a vicious circle, but the conclusions are the same: above all, we need more money for health and the environment.

Yes, we are living through one crisis after another, but we must set priorities. Health and environmental policies have to come first. But right now, they don’t.