World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2016: Encouraging health care workers and the public to become “Antibiotic Guardians”

WHO

Antibiotic resistance presents one of the biggest threats to global health and development today – and the threat is growing. This year, the world will mark the second annual World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW), with the overarching theme “Handle with Care”, from 14 to 20 November. The week aims to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health care workers and policy-makers to avoid its further emergence and spread.

Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control. Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance. This year, WAAW focuses in particular on health workers and the vital role they play in defending the power of antibiotics. WHO/Europe has interviewed health care workers from across the European Region about their experiences with antibiotic resistance and how they are working to stop it. Read their personal stories, along with messages from other champions for antibiotic resistance awareness, by following the links below.

Health care workers play a vital role in preventing the spread of antibiotic resistance

On any given day, about 80 000 patients – or 1 in 18 patients in hospitals – in the European Union have at least one health care associated infection, i.e. an infection contracted when receiving health care or during a stay at a health facility, according to estimates from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). They are often difficult to treat because the microorganisms that cause them are resistant to antibiotics. The WHO Report on the Burden of Endemic Health Care-Associated Infection Worldwide states that, in Europe, these infections cause 16 million extra days spent in hospital as well as 37 000 attributable deaths, and that they contribute to an additional 110 000 deaths every year. Annual financial losses are estimated at approximately €7 billion (direct costs only).

Health professionals – including general practitioners, nurses, hospital prescribers, dentists and pharmacists – in the European Region can help prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance by following five key recommendations from WHO:

  • if you think a patient might need antibiotics, where possible test to confirm and find out which one;
  • only prescribe antibiotics when they are truly needed, according to current guidelines;
  • prescribe and dispense the right antibiotic at the right dose for the right duration;
  • prevent infections by using safe hygiene practices to ensure that your hands, instruments and environment are clean; and
  • keep your patients’ vaccinations up to date.

Additionally, health workers should report antibiotic-resistant infections to surveillance teams. They should talk with their patients about how to take antibiotics correctly and the dangers of misuse. It can also help to educate patients about how to prevent infections, for example through vaccination, hand washing, safer sex, and covering the nose and mouth when sneezing.

All levels of society have a part to play

In addition to health workers, policy-makers and members of the public must take a stand against the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. To help encourage everyone to take action, WHO/Europe and Public Health England (PHE) have launched an expanded version of the “Antibiotic Guardian”, a web-based campaign initiated by PHE in 2014. Since that time, more than 34 000 people have pledged their support and become “Antibiotic Guardians”.

During WAAW 2016, WHO/Europe encourages all people of the European Region to visit the Antibiotic Guardian website and pledge to make better use of antibiotics and help save these vital medicines from becoming obsolete. A new Russian version of the site is now available and WHO/Europe invites Russian-speaking countries, in particular, to take part in the initiative.

Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, including throughout Europe. New data on antimicrobial resistance in European countries will be released on 18 November in the second annual report of the Central Asian and Eastern European Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance network (CAESAR), providing valuable insight into the scope of the problem and key priorities for future efforts to control it. Now is the time for health care workers, policy-makers and the general public, alike, to take action and “handle antibiotics with care” to halt the spread of antibiotic resistance and promote the responsible use of these life-saving medicines.