Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a pressing public health threat that can affect anyone globally. The European Self-Care Industry is ready to play its role to protect public health and contribute to the sustainability of European healthcare systems.
What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance (also referred to as “AMR” or “antibiotic resistance”) occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve in ways that render ineffective the medications used to treat the illnesses they cause.
Antimicrobial resistance is a natural phenomenon. However, its occurrence can accelerate because of wrong actions and decisions, such as the inappropriate use of antibiotics (misuse, overuse or sharing of medication), the accidental release into the environment and the improper disposal of unused or expired antibiotics.
With antimicrobial resistance, it is the bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics, not the infected person or animal. When microorganisms become multi-resistant, it means that they have become resistant to most common antimicrobials. In that case, they are often referred to as “superbugs”.
Superbugs, an invisible enemy with tangible impact
The unbridled development of superbugs is a major concern because it means that common bacterial infections may soon become untreatable with the current existing medication. A resistant infection may kill, spread to others and impose huge costs to individuals and society.
In 2018, ECDC reported that about 33 000 people die each year from an infection due to bacteria resistant to antibiotics. This is the equivalent of a village being wiped off the map! The burden of antibiotic resistant infections in Europe is comparable to that of inﬂuenza, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.
According to OECD, antimicrobial resistance is already a major public health tragedy that compromises the sustainability of health systems and poses a threat of a post-antibiotic era in the future.
Anyone can be affected by an antibiotic resistant infection, regardless of their age, social status or the place and country they live in. The good news is that we can all do something about it! This starts from our actions as a person to our actions as a professional, whether we are a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, a veterinarian, a farmer and/or a policy maker.
The Self-Care Industry keeps antibiotics working
The Self-Care Industry is no exception. Because our mission is to advance responsible self-care, enabling citizens to take better care of their health needs, and contribute to the sustainability of European healthcare systems, we are ready to play our role in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.
We do so, first, by helping to avoid the need for antibiotics in the first place, providing products that help prevent infections (for example, hand sanitisers) and relieve symptoms of common winter illnesses against which antibiotics are NOT effective, like flu or cold. The use of medicines available without prescription (OTCs) as well as other self-care products, such as food supplements (including minerals and vitamins) or self-care medical devices, contributes significantly to maintaining good health and helps cope with mild symptoms of seasonal illnesses that are often wrongly perceived as treatable by antibiotics.
The Self-Care Industry in Europe also plays its role in the fight against antimicrobial resistance by investing in public awareness on the correct disposal of medicines and in collection systems for unused or expired medicines. AESGP is a partner of the #MedsDisposal campaign, a joint initiative that raises awareness of the appropriate disposal of medicines, including antibiotics, in Europe. An important feature of the project is an interactive map of Europe with direct links to the official websites providing information on the appropriate way of disposing medicines in each country in the national language(s). (To know more about our work on Environmental issues, click here.)
Finally, since 2018, the Self-Care Industry, through AESGP, is a proud official partner of the European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD), an annual European public health initiative led by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) that takes place on 18 November to raise awareness about the threat to public health of antibiotic resistance and the importance of prudent antibiotic use.Read our Position Paper on AMR
Health literacy will give antimicrobial resistance no chance
Infections such as bronchitis, sore throat, flu and sinusitis are often cited as reasons for taking antibiotics. Let’s debunk this widespread myth: most of these respiratory infections are of viral origin. Antibiotics act on bacteria so, no, they don’t work and have never worked against viruses! That is a fact.
Improving general knowledge and raising population’s health literacy on the self-management of viral respiratory infections and antimicrobial resistance is an important step to keep antibiotics working. According to the 2018 Eurobarometer, 57% of Europeans are not aware that antibiotics are ineffective against viruses and 44% do not know that antibiotics are not effective against the common cold and flu. This is an appalling reality considering that up to 80% of seasonal respiratory infections, better known as “common winter illnesses”, are caused by viruses and therefore do not require any treatment by antibiotic.
Often in partnership with public institutions and healthcare professionals, members of the European Self-Care Industry have developed public health and health literacy campaigns at the national level to increase health literacy and educate European citizens on the appropriate management of common winter illnesses, such as cold and flu, and on infection prevention. Initiatives like the IPHA-IPU campaign “Be Well This Winter” or the APIFARMA program “Tratar de mim” are just a few examples.