Antimicrobial resistance - The silent pandemic in the spotlight

A blog post by Jean-Yves Stenuick
Safer Pharma Programme Manager – HCWH Europe

We are still going through the COVID-19 pandemic, for which Europe was largely unprepared, but lessons must be learnt quickly if we are to effectively safeguard important medicines and stop the health threat of another pandemic - antimicrobial resistance.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, underfunded healthcare systems have been under immense pressure to provide care whilst intensive care units were full of critically ill patients. Healthcare professionals, who have been at the forefront of this unprecedented health crisis, are still dealing with the fallout and will be the first line of defence against the next one.

Antimicrobial resistance, also known as AMR, is a process where microorganisms (such as bacteria), develop resistance to medicine. This makes infections harder, or even impossible, to treat. AMR is already impacting healthcare across the world. It could cause up to 10 million deaths a year by 2050 and push 24 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 if no effective action is taken.

Today, European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) and the start of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW), helps shine a light on this global health and development threat, but further, more concrete action is needed. The healthcare sector is uniquely placed to be a catalyst for change and prevent the worst to happen. Healthcare professionals can play a central role in this process – demonstrating leadership and advocating for better practices across sectors.

HCWH Europe supports the healthcare community to tackle AMR, offering key resources on how to tackle AMR in healthcare facilities and enhance AMR education in medical schools. We are also releasing new initiatives to engage healthcare professionals and stakeholders in the fight against AMR.


Colistin is largely used in human medicine as a crucial last-resort antibiotic to treat infections caused by gram-negative bacteria resistant to carbapenems. It has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials.

The Regulation on Veterinary Medicinal Products that comes into force in the EU in January 2022 mandates the European Commission to develop a list of antimicrobials to be reserved for human use. This list will apply to food both produced and imported into the EU, establishing an important international standard.

Scientific evidence shows the link between colistin resistance in human health and its use in animal farming. It is therefore crucial that this antibiotic is included in this list and is reserved for human medicine only.

Healthcare professionals can support this goal and join the #SafeguardColistin campaign. Sign the petition and call on the European Commission to ban colistin in EU food production - where it is currently used to sustain irresponsible intensive farming practices such as early weaning in piglets for profitability.

As well as the petition, we have produced an animated video and infographic to help spread awareness and amplify the campaign.

Sign the petition and share it with your networks!

Reduce antimicrobial use in food production

Healthcare institutions across Europe serve a large number of meals to patients, visitors, and staff every day. Their significant purchasing power means that they are uniquely placed to drive change in the market and throughout the supply chain to prevent the overuse of life-saving antimicrobials in food production.

We have launched a new working group on antimicrobial use in food production, with a goal to develop a set of standard procurement criteria on antimicrobial use in food served in European hospitals. These criteria will help encourage demand for food produced with responsible antimicrobial use in the European healthcare sector.

We are looking for food procurement staff within healthcare, healthcare professionals interested in antimicrobial use in food, and experts, academics, and representatives from environmental and health NGOs to join the working group. Members of the working group will meet 3-4 times between November 2021 and March 2022.

Register your interest in the working group

Join the sustainable healthcare movement

Looking for further ways to engage? Consider joining the network or stay up to date with us - subscribe to our newsletters or follow us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). We will be publishing AMR-related content throughout the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, including video messages from Members of the European Parliament and recommendations to boost AMR actions in the wake of the EU Pharmaceutical Strategy.

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