EU Parliament event highlights urgency of tackling AMR

The mother of a teenager who died in hospital from a superbug has called on MEPs to take a lead in efforts to combat the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

An event in Parliament has highlighted the need to tackle AMR | Photo credit: Fotolia

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

29 Jun 2017

Speaking at an event in Parliament on Wednesday, Susan Fallon told how her daughter Samantha had died from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection caused by a type of bacteria that has become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary infections.

Fallon gave a moving and emotional testimony on how 17-year-old Samantha never left hospital after being admitted for a relatively minor virus.

Over the following four days, the college student suffered major organ failure and it was discovered she had MRSA in her nose, neck and lung.


Fallon, who is now deputy chair of MRSA Action UK, said her personal tragedy highlighted the growing threat from antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

She was one of the keynote speakers at the half day conference, co-organised by PA International Foundation, which brought together MEPs, physicians and experts in the field. 

Fighting back tears, Fallon told the meeting, "The infection was definitely caught in hospital and I often think of where Samantha would be now."

She added, "I want to call on the Parliament, on behalf of MRSA Action UK and all those who we support, to put in place rules and regulations to prevent people falling victim to AMR.

"We would like the Parliament to take the lead to ensure we protect our present stock of antibiotics and to help develop other antimicrobials for future generations.

"We are the golden generation who have been born and live in an antibiotic era, who have enjoyed the greatest leap in medical science in mankind. 

"But I am asking for you to take the action required so that no one else has to go through what my family and I have been through."

The event, which came on the eve of the Commission's new action plan on AMR, heard that bacteria found in humans, animals and food continue to show resistance to widely used antimicrobials.

Several speakers, including Marc Sprenger, of the World Health Organisation, said that AMR "poses a serious threat to public and animal health."

Infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to antimicrobials lead to about 50,000 deaths in the EU every year. This is estimated to rise to 70,000 fatalities by 2030, he said.

Another speaker, Ramanan Laxminarayan, a director at the US Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, said the problem was particularly acute in developing countries.

In countries like India, Brazil and China, the AMR rate had rocketed from 0.5 per cent to, in some cases, as much as 80 per cent.

"This is a huge problem, particularly in developing countries, and tackling it is not going to be easy," he said.

He also said that antimicrobial resistance levels in Europe continue to vary by geographical region, with countries in northern and western Europe generally having lower resistance levels than those in southern and eastern Europe.

Such geographic variations, said Sarah Cahill, a food safety officer with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, are most likely related to differences in antimicrobial use across the EU. For example, countries where actions have been taken to reduce, replace and re-think the use of antimicrobials in animals show lower levels of antimicrobial resistance and decreasing trends.

The conference also heard that more needs to be done to reduce the use of antimicrobials in animal husbandry, including for growth promotion.

Such usage can have a general public health impact, for example, extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing E. coli has been detected in beef, pork, pigs and calves, the conference was told.

Resistance to colistin has been found at very low levels in Salmonella and E. coli in pigs and cattle. Colistin may be commonly used in some countries for the control of infections in animals, especially in pigs.

The EU, it was pointed out, had banned the use of antimicrobials as growth stimulants several years ago but it was still widely used for such purposes in many other countries around the world.

In adopting the new animal health law in March last year, Parliament said it wanted greater stress on the problem of AMR. Legislative proposals on veterinary medicines and medicated feed, which also address the issue of AMR, are currently before Parliament.

Three MEPs also spoke at the event, including environment committee Chair Adina-Ioana Valean, who said the main reason behind the "very worrying" growth in AMR had been the "inappropriate use" of antibiotics over a period of time, both in human medicine and animal husbandry.

Along with more public awareness of the problem, more prudent use of antibiotics was among the urgent measures necessary to stem the increase, said the MEP, who co-hosted the conference.

Further comment came from Swedish ALDE group deputy Fredrick Federley who believes AMR is "one of the biggest challenges" facing society.

There was a risk, he warned, that meat production would fall dramatically in the coming years because of an inability to effectively treat sick animals with non-resistant drugs.

"There is also a risk that this will throw us back 100 years in human medicine if, for example, we are unable to provide effective cancer treatments. That will mean there will be more needless deaths," he said.


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