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Raquel Ferrer Espada, PhD candidate at department of Microbiology and Parasitology of the University of Navarra and co-author of the blog knowledge dissemination Microbios&co

What are governments doing and what can citizens do to make better use of antibiotics?


Sun, 22 Nov 2015 11:46:00 +0000 Published in News Journal

This week the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates the First World Antibiotic Awareness Week. In addition, coinciding with this date for several years now the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) - the European equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Why do these two major organizations focus their time and resources on advising us on how to use antibiotics wisely?

The answer is that the inappropriate and irrational use of antibiotics creates favorable conditions for the emergence, spread and persistence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms. These microorganisms constitute one of the greatest public health problems today or, in the words of the WHO, "the greatest threat in the 21st century to the achievements of modern medicine". Resistant bacteria dramatically reduce the chances of treating infectious diseases and increase the risk of complications, causing high mortality in patients with severe infections. In Europe alone, antimicrobial resistance causes 400,000 infections and 25,000 deaths every year. Antibiotic resistance also leads to an increase in healthcare costs of around 1.5 billion euros per year, increases the time spent in hospital and is responsible for many therapeutic failures, increasing morbidity and mortality.

In 2010, awareness of the global threat posed by antibiotic resistance began to grow and initiatives in favor of development of new compounds began to be implemented. In recognition of the need to encourage the development of new antibiotics, the U.S. congress approved a year later, in 2011, the certificate Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now (GAIN). This agreement confers certain advantages to companies attempting to develop new antibiotics, such as: a 5-year increase in patent duration, priority review of drugs at development and eligibility for fast-track drug approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Europe, for its part, has created the Combating Bacterial Resistance in Europe initiative, within the New Drugs 4 Bad Bugs program.

In Spain, that same year, the National Antibiotic Resistance Plan (PRAN) was launched, a plan coordinated by the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products and involving the partnership of six ministries (Health, Agriculture, Economics, Interior, Defense and Education) and all the autonomous communities. This plan has several strategic lines: monitoring antibiotic consumption and resistance, controlling the spread of resistant microorganisms, promoting prevention and treatment measures, establishing priorities at subject of research, training healthcare professionals and raising public awareness.

It is on this last point that ordinary citizens are urged to do something about the problem. What is in our hands but which is fundamental is to use antibiotics wisely: only when prescribed by the doctor, following the treatment strictly to the end and handing over any leftover antibiotics to the pharmacist.

In this scenario, the good news is that we seem to be finally taking this problem seriously.