Countering bacterial resistance to antibiotics
The resistance of harmful bacteria to antibiotics is becoming a public health issue of great importance. Over the last century antibiotic drugs have revolutionised the treatment of infectious diseases. By reducing the devastating effects of many illnesses antibiotics have greatly improved the health of people around the world. Today, however, the effects of antibiotics are diminishing as bacteria and other harmful organisms are becoming resistant to their antibacterial agents.
Antibiotics are widespread. They are found in medicines for human use, in veterinary medications, plant protection products and also in animal growth promoters until their ban in the European Union from January 2006. Antibiotics kill or curb the growth of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungae and parasites and have been very successful in treating communicable diseases and preventing infections.
The very success of antibiotics is at the root of the current problem. Organisms that cause diseases have a remarkable ability to evolve and adapt their genetic make-up to resist the antibacterial agents found in antibiotic drugs. The more these medicines have been used the more resistant have the organisms become to such medication.
Traditional treatments are becoming ineffective and a great many people are suffering longer from illnesses that were previously easily overcome. Healthcare systems around the world are feeling the pinch. So much so that the fight against antibacterial resistance is a public health priority. overcome. Healthcare systems around the world are feeling the pinch. So much so that the fight against antibacterial resistance is a public health priority.
Antibiotics resistance varies substantially between European countries. The search for a solution to antibiotics resistance is an endeavour that can only be tackled at European and international level. The implementation of these solutions is naturally to be tailored to the specific situation of individual countries.
In 2001, the European Commission published its strategy to combat antibiotics resistance. The strategy focuses on four areas, namely surveillance, prevention, research and product development as well as international co-operation. The recommendations in the Commission’s strategy called on European Union Member States to focus on a number of elements, which include:
The solutions to antibiotics resistance can only succeed as a result of concerted efforts between the pharmaceutical industry and national governments. A number of research projects such as EUR-INTAFAR and GRACE are pan-European projects studying the different ways in which a public health issue like t he resistance of harmful bacteria to antibiotics can be tackled.