Use of antibiotics can be further reduced in Europe

On June 17, NIVEL and the University of Antwerp organized the conference "Towards a more prudent use of antibiotics in the European Union". The conference was an associated event of the Dutch presidency of the European Union. Policy-makers and other stakeholders from 21 European countries gathered to exchange ideas on how to enhance the rational use of antibiotics. Ideas ranged from a national approach, for example Spain, Sweden and Great Britain, to examples of relatively simple interventions that are easy to implement. The outcome of the conference is the "Utrecht Statement on Antibiotic Use" in which actions are outlined for Europe and its Member States.

Antimicrobial resistance does not respect borders
Antimicrobial resistance does not stop at borders. In many countries in South and Eastern Europe, people can still buy antibiotics without a prescription at the pharmacy. Although this is not legal in the EU, it happens anyway. In addition, more pills  are often provided than needed for one treatment. People keep them and use the leftovers if they believe they need them or give them to their family or friends. This may occur even though it is not at all clear whether these persons have a bacterial infection.

The ARNA project had a particular focus on self-medication (buying antibiotics without a prescription and the use of leftovers). Six countries were involved in the in-depth studies: Spain, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Greece and Cyprus. It was shown that in all six countries it is indeed possible to buy antibiotics at the pharmacy, although there is a clear variation between them. In Greece and Romania, for example, it is easier to buy antibiotics over the counter compared to Italy and Spain.

In the ARNA project NIVEL and the University of Antwerp worked together with these countries on plans to reduce the use of antibiotics in their country. Policy Dialogue Meetings were held in each country, organized in cooperation with policy makers and stakeholders, including consumer organizations. This latter group is very important as increasing awareness of the hazards of improper use of antibiotics in the general population is very important. This is critical as doctors and pharmacists in all six participating countries experience pressure from patients to prescribe or sell antibiotics.

The report of the ARNA project is expected later this year.