European Antibiotic Awareness Day 2013: everyone is responsible

Antibiotic resistance affects the entire WHO European Region, driven by the overuse, underuse and misuse of antibiotics. Although some efforts have been made to combat indiscriminate use, many countries have no national regulation or enforcement on antibiotic usage; healthy animals are given antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease, and commercial companies promote antibiotics irresponsibly. In too many countries, members of the general public can buy antibiotics over the counter (without a prescription) and use them at will. Doctors often prescribe antibiotics easily or inappropriately, and people take them to treat viral infections such as influenza and the common cold, against which they do not work.

Surveillance: basis for evidence-based action

Mapping antibiotic use and resistance is a key aspect of the European strategic action plan on antibiotic resistance, endorsed by all countries in the European Region in 2011.

A new surveillance network – called Central Asian and Eastern European Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance (CAESAR) – started work in 2012, and 12 countries outside the European Union (EU) have joined it. As these countries have different levels of surveillance of antibiotic resistance, WHO/Europe and its partners help them set up or strengthen, as well as harmonize, their systems. CAESAR’s first annual report is expected to be issued by the end of 2014.

CAESAR complements the surveillance conducted in EU countries by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) through the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network (EARS-Net). A harmonized and coordinated surveillance network, covering all countries in the European Region, is key to protecting health from the cross-border threat of antimicrobial resistance.

In addition, WHO/Europe and the University of Antwerp, Belgium have sought to set up a network to collect data on antimicrobial use from countries that are not participating in the European Surveillance of Antimicrobial Consumption Network (ESAC-Net). After a series of workshops, 13 European countries can now collect and analyse their consumption data; they will publish these internationally soon. This work is done in close collaboration with ECDC, to ensure that the data are comparable and compatible with those collected through ESAC-Net.