Statement by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark for European Antibiotic Awareness Day 2012

Every generation has its own challenges: resistance to antibiotics is one of our major ones. It is a threat to the health and well-being of both humans and animals, now and in the future. This is why I decided to be part of the efforts to address this urgent public health problem as the Patron of WHO Regional Office for Europe, as a person and as a mother.

Antibiotics are a powerful medical tool, but they are not the cure for all that ails us. Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. They are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu. Unfortunately, this is not always understood.

As a consequence, antibiotics have been overused and misused especially where they can be obtained without prescription. Now in Europe and globally, we are quickly losing the ability to treat patients with bacterial infections. Resistant bacteria can spread to other people and countries, and this means that one person's behaviour can affect the chances of another person getting well. This makes it an urgent public health problem.

The European Antibiotic Awareness Day is a European health initiative coordinated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO has joined forces to extend it to all 53 European Member States in the Region.  On this day, together with WHO, we urge the entire society in all our countries to undertake urgent and vigorous action to promote the prudent use of antibiotics.

The consumers also share the responsibility of keeping antibiotics effective. Antibiotics should never be bought without a prescription from a doctor, just as doctors must resist the pressure to prescribe antibiotics against their better judgement. It is important that the correct dose and the complete course is taken, even when we start to feel better. And medicine should only be taken by the person and condition it has been prescribed for.

Taking such action contributes to avoiding that the world reaches a situation similar to before penicillin was discovered – when people died of common bacterial infections. Without urgent action we risk jeopardising one of the fundamental achievements that has brought huge progress to public health: antibiotics.