Press Release

Statement from Minister Harris regarding European Antibiotics Awareness Day

The Minister for Health, Mr. Simon Harris TD today acknowledged the significance of the 9th European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) and welcomed Ireland’s continuing active engagement in this important initiative.

The Minister noted that EAAD is part of the World Health Organisation’s second global week of action to highlight the growing problem of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and that the day has been a very successful event across Europe since its launch in 2008.

Minister Harris stated: ‘We know that the emergence of AMR worldwide is a real and growing public health crisis and requires a ‘One Health’ approach to addressing its spread, that is, multi-sectoral action across human and animal health sectors, agriculture and the wider environment. Given that AMR is recognised as a global health issue, it is accepted that sectors on their own cannot properly address this concern and a co-ordinated response from all stakeholders is required’.

The Minister noted the ongoing work both in Ireland and internationally to address AMR. The World Health Organisation’s 2015 Global Action Plan on AMR expects that countries will develop their own national action plans on antimicrobial resistance in line with the Global Plan.  Council Conclusions adopted in June 2016 call on Member States to have in place by mid-2017 a national action plan against Antimicrobial Resistance based on the ‘One Health’ approach and in line with the objectives of the WHO Plan.

In Ireland, in recognition of the serious and increasing threat of antimicrobial resistance and the requirement for a ‘whole of Government’ approach to health issues, the Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) established a high level National Interdepartmental AMR Consultative Committee to address this issue.  The Committee was launched at European Antibiotic Awareness Day in November 2014 and has a clear role and mandate across the human and animal health sectors.  Committee membership consists of representatives of both Departments and of the relevant HSE and veterinary specialist agencies, including other relevant bodies with a remit across the two sectors; membership is representative of major stakeholders.

As well as work on enhancing surveillance between the health and agriculture sectors, the Committee is currently working to develop Ireland’s National Action Plan against AMR in line with WHO and EU Council requirements.  This work will continue in 2017.

Commenting on the work of the Health Service Executive and Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Clinical Advisory Group on Healthcare Associated Infection and  all the agencies and personnel involved in EAAD the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan said: ‘Ireland’s participation each year in EAAD underlines the commitment of both the Health and wider community in tackling the threat of antimicrobial resistance. The Department is engaged in and fully supports the work to promote understanding and prudent use of our precious antibiotic treatments in order to preserve their value and effectiveness for treatment today and into the future’.

The prevention and control of healthcare associated infections (HCAIs) and AMR has been a significant patient safety and public health priority for the Department of Health for numerous years.

A wide range of initiatives has been put in place in the Irish health system including improved surveillance of infections and prescribing, infection prevention and control processes, antimicrobial stewardship initiatives, public and professional awareness raising and a significant emphasis on the education and training of healthcare professionals.


What is AMR?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is resistance of a microorganism to a drug that was originally effective for treatment of infections caused by that microorganism. Resistant microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial drugs, such as antibacterial drugs (e.g., antibiotics), antifungals, antivirals, and antimalarials, so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist, increasing the risk of spread to others.

The evolution of resistant strains is a natural phenomenon that occurs when microorganisms replicate themselves erroneously or when resistant traits are exchanged between them. The use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs accelerates the emergence of drug-resistant strains. Poor infection control practices, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food handling encourage the further spread of AMR.

What is the effect of AMR?

A recent European Commission report estimated that drug-resistant bacteria are now responsible for about 25,000 human deaths per annum in the EU alone, with associated healthcare costs and productivity losses of €1.5b. The Commission also estimated that approx. 4m patients are estimated to acquire a healthcare associated infection in the EU every year.

What does ‘One Health’ mean?

The ‘One Health’ concept came into being because of the fact that humans and animal share the same bacteria, which can transfer from one population to the other. Consequently the antibiotics used to treat these bacteria in animals, may be the same, or similar, to those used to treat infectious diseases in the human population. Therefore in order to address the emergence and spread of AMR, there needs to be a co-ordinated response from the public health, animal health and environmental sectors, including other stakeholders in the private and public sectors.

The multi-sector harmonisation of strategies and measures to address the challenge of AMR are necessary at a global, regional, and national level. There has been global intersectoral collaboration since 2010, with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) establishing tripartite actions to coordinate strategies to ensure antimicrobials maintain their efficacy, and are used responsibly.  These agencies are signatories to a ‘One Health’ worldwide initiative.

The European Commission has also promoted a holistic and multi-sectoral approach involving many groups such as the public health, food safety, animal health and welfare, research and innovation, bio-safety and environment sectors. The EU at both Council and Parliament levels has developed its Community Strategy against AMR having regard to the ‘One Health’ concept.

At a national level the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine established the National Interdepartmental Antimicrobial Resistance Consultative Committee in 2014 as part of the ‘One Health‘ initiative, and to advance a holistic national approach in working together to ensure that effective antibiotics remain available into the future.

What is the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan 2015?

In May 2015, delegates at the World Health Assembly endorsed a global action plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance – including antibiotic resistance, the most urgent drug resistance trend.

The plan sets out 5 objectives:

  1. improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance;
  2. strengthen surveillance and research;
  3. reduce the incidence of infection;
  4. optimize the use of antimicrobial medicines;
  5. ensure sustainable investment in countering antimicrobial resistance.

The WHO expects that countries will develop their own national action plans on antimicrobial resistance in line with the Global Plan.

In June 2016 Council Conclusions ‘The next steps under a ‘One Health’ approach to combat antimicrobial resistance’ were adopted at the EPSCO (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs) Council meeting of 17 June 2016. At the UN High Level meeting on AMR on 21st September last in New York the General Assembly adopted a Political Declaration on Antimicrobial Resistance which reaffirmed that the blueprint for tackling AMR is the WHO Global Action Plan on AMR and its five overarching strategic objectives.

Ireland is fully committed to and engaged in addressing resolution of the problem of AMR.  We will continue to collaborate at international, EU and national levels to this end.

Anti-microbial Resistance