Antimicrobial resistance – A silent yet insidious pandemic

A blog post by Jen Hochmuth, Safer Pharma Programme Manager - HCWH Europe

Jen Hochmuth - Safer Pharma Programme ManagerAntimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is the health threat of our time. Projections for 2050 suggest that AMR could cause 10 million deaths per year globally, if we do not act now.

New data published on 17 November, coinciding with the European Antibiotic Awareness Day, indicate that more than 35,000 people die from resistant infections in the EU/EEA each year. This number increased significantly between 2016-2020 and over 70% of resistant infections were healthcare-associated.

The development of AMR is accelerated by the misuse of antibiotics in human and animal health. The results published by a Eurobarometer study on the same day, are alarming: more than 50% of Europeans still incorrectly believe that antibiotics kill viruses. HCWH Europe supports the healthcare sector, offering key resources on how to tackle this insidious health threat in healthcare facilities and enhance AMR education in medical schools.

The ‘One Health’ approach is key in tackling AMR

On 17 November the European Commission published a report reviewing Member States' One Health National Action Plans against AMR and concluded that many would benefit from a stronger 'One Health' approach. 'One Health' is an integrated, unifying approach designed to balance and optimise the health of people, animals, and the environment.

Within recent years, the EU/EEA has seen a decrease in overall antimicrobial consumption in both humans and animals, but there are still reasons to be concerned. Between 2012–2021, human consumption of ‘broad-spectrum’ antibiotics increased by 15% in hospitals. Alarmingly, the proportion of ‘last-resort’ antibiotics - which should be reserved for the treatment of confirmed multi-drug resistant infections - almost tripled during this period.

In 2021, the European food sector used 136 tonnes of colistin – a vitally important last-resort antibiotic for human health that is used when no other antibiotics are effective. Moreover, 13.9% of antibiotics used in farming are HPCIAs - highest priority critically important antimicrobials - that should be preserved for human use only.

The use of HPCIAs in the UK accounts for 0.4% of all antibiotics, which shows that animal husbandry doesn't have to rely on HPCIAs. Evidence that AMR can spread between animals, humans and the environment is mounting. Reducing the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, and replacing them where possible is therefore essential for the future of animal and public health.

The healthcare sector plays key role in the fight against AMR 

In light of the crucial role healthcare facilities play in minimising the risk of AMR, HCWH Europe has developed criteria for responsible antimicrobial use in products of animal origin. We now invite European healthcare facilities to support these criteria and apply them in their food procurement strategies.

We will further help the healthcare sector play a leading role in developing AMR resilience. Doctors have a leading role in antimicrobial stewardship, educating patients about antimicrobial resistance, and improving prescription practices to save antibiotics for the future generations. Next year HCWH Europe will coordinate a EU4Health project to equip the health workforce with the necessary knowledge and skills to address AMR in the areas of prescription, waste management and patient empowerment. 

This is in line with the first objective of WHO’s Global Action Plan on AMR “Improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) through effective communication, education and training”. The healthcare sector has a crucial role to play - AMR is a silent yet insidious pandemic that has been spreading for decades and is not subsiding.

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