08 September 2010

Antibiotic resistance: Scandinavia gets it

Odd but interesting fact: Scandinavia takes antibiotic resistance incredibly seriously. Denmark has one of the most thorough programs for preventing antibiotic misuse in agriculture; Norway has very tough regulations regarding antibiotic stewardship in hospitals (as captured in this AP story last year). Sweden has pressed the issue as well; drug resistance was a major issue for the Swedish Presidency of the European Union in the last half of 2009 and led to a major conference there on creating incentives to bring antibiotic manufacturers back into the market.

The presidency has since been relinquished to more southern countries (Spain in the first half of this year and now Belgium) but the Swedish focus on resistance persists, pushed along by the nonprofit organization ReAct, based at Uppsala University. Earlier this week, ReAct hosted a three-day international conference on antibiotic resistance in Uppsala. They haven't posted the full conference report yet, but they have come out with a closing press release, which says some interesting things (emphases mine):
At a historic three day conference at Uppsala University, Sweden, 190 delegates representing 45 countries and many leading stake holders – civil society, academia, industry, governments, authorities, supranational organizations – agreed on Wednesday to turn a new page and move towards concerted action on antibiotic resistance...
The new signals from the Uppsala meeting include:
- A shared conviction that antibiotic resistance is a universal problem. Like global warming, it requires joint action, not least by governmental alliances.
- A clear signal from the pharmaceutical industry that return of investment on research and development of new antibiotics and diagnostic tools will have to be de-linked from market sales in order to boost necessary innovation while yet limiting the use of antibiotics. This requires a new business model where private and public sectors cooperate.
- A strong recommendation to all stakeholders to speed up the efforts to limit unnecessary use of antibiotics, while at the same time making the medicines affordable and accessible in developing countries.
- A commitment to improve the monitoring of antibiotic resistance across the world, through shared data and increased efforts. A global network of surveillance will require common methods, and is crucial for both prudent use and needs driven development of new agents.
The release also mentions some promising events coming next year:
- A final report from TATFAR, The Transatlantic Task Force on Antibiotic Resistance.
- A policy meeting on antibiotic resistance in Delhi, India.
- A WHO Action Plan on Antibiotic Resistance.
- A number of regional initiatives, including in Southeast Asia, Africa and The Middle East.
(Hmm. Surely it is time for me to go back to India...)

People who've worked in this field for a long time will know, of course, that up-front commitments are easy to make; it's downstream action, carried out over the long term, that makes a difference. But this looks like a promising start: Even just stimulating international recognition of the program is an encouraging beginning.

Until the final conference report is posted, you can see video of the opening and final sessions here.

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