EU Commission to unveil new plans to tackle deadly AMR

The European Commission will unveil new plans on Thursday designed to combat the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Vytenis Andriukatis | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

29 Jun 2017

Speaking on the eve of the announcement, European health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis described AMR as a "silent tsunami."

He told a meeting in Parliament, co-organised by PA International Foundation, that AMR kills 700,000 people worldwide each year, including about 50,000 in Europe alone.

Andriukaitis, one of the keynote speakers at the half-day conference, conceded that despite many initiatives over recent decades, "we have collectively failed to keep pace" with the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections.


He said, "Certain superbugs are now in the ascendency. We have now reached a critical point where AMR is jeopardising both human and animal health. We are witnessing concentration of antimicrobials in the vicinity of big farms, hospitals, production facilities, waste water treatment plants, big cities in general."

The official told the meeting, "The golden days of miracle cures for many infectious diseases may be drawing to a close."

In 2011, the Commission launched a five-year action plan in response to the growing need for stronger and more coordinated action against AMR. 

He said, "Yet, despite significant progress, the 2011 action plan has not proved strong enough to curb the rise of resistant infections."

He pointed out that the European Parliament adopted recently a resolution supporting tackling AMR and member states had called on the Commission to present the new AMR action plan. 

The new European One Health action plan against AMR has three main priorities, he told the conference.

"The first priority is to see the EU firmly established as a best practice region in the field of AMR, recognised throughout the world. There are significant differences between member states in antimicrobial use, occurrence of resistance, and the extent to which effective national policies to deal with AMR have been implemented.

"With the new plan, the Commission aims to raise the level of all member states to that of the highest performing country."

The second priority is to continue to boost innovation and research.

The Commissioner, a former MEP, noted, "We need to develop new effective antimicrobials, rapid diagnostic tests as well as new vaccines and other alternative treatments."

The third priority will be to strengthen the "EU presence, voice and efforts in the international arena."

The Lithuanian official said, "AMR knows no borders. Areas of action have been internationally agreed and outlined in the WHO global action plan, but in light of the continuous spread of AMR, the EU needs to reinforce engagement and collaboration with multilateral organisations."

He said that, if left unchecked, AMR may also threaten to "overwhelm our healthcare systems, both in a medical and economic sense."

In the EU alone, it is estimated that AMR already costs €1.5bn each year in healthcare expenses and productivity losses. 

The World Bank, the event was told, warns that by 2050, drug-resistant infections could cause global economic damage on a par with the 2008 financial crisis.

"No single country or region can hope to defeat AMR working individually. People, animals, foods and goods move around the world every day, every hour, every minute. Bacteria move together with them, freely crossing borders," added Andriukaitis.

To raise awareness on AMR, the Commission, he said, had established a €1m Horizon prize for better use of antibiotics and the EU health award for NGOs fighting antimicrobial resistance.

Despite such efforts, he criticised member states who, he said, had been slow to adopt existing EU laws designed to combat AMR both in humans and on veterinary medicines and medicated feed.

While the European Parliament had adopted its position and is ready to start negotiations, member states are still lagging behind, he claimed.

He went on, "We encourage the Council to speed up its work in order to be ready to start trilogue discussions this year."

He stressed that more needs to be done to address AMR across the board - from stakeholders and individual countries to groups of countries and through stronger global initiatives.

The former health minister said, "We can be proud of the fact that the EU banned the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters in feed for animal livestock production as long ago as 2006. We would like to see its further adoption beyond the EU, in the wider world.

"Citizens are also becoming more and more aware and indeed worried about the rise of AMR. Their demands and pressure on producers and regulators to ensure that the food we eat comes from animals not unnecessarily treated with antibiotics will only increase in future."

It was vital, he noted, to halt resistant infections and to "keep our antimicrobials effective, for now and for future generations."


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