Progress made toward more ‘rational, targeted’ antibiotic use

The one-year anniversary of StAR on Friday coincided with both the European Antibiotic Awareness Day, and the World Health Organization’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week. Keystone

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health has announced that a programme to fight antibiotic resistance in Switzerland has implemented two-thirds of its 35 planned measures during its first year.

This content was published on November 18, 2016 - 17:14

In a statement on Friday, the Federal Office of Public Health said that the Strategy on Antibiotic Resistance (StAR) programme is “rapidly advancing” its comprehensive plan to fight antibiotic resistance, which is a major problem for agriculture and the environment as well as human health.

A major goal is to promote more “rational” and targeted use of antibiotics in terms of need, and for professional organisations in human and animal medicine to develop guidelines aimed at reducing the amount of antibiotics administered.

The StAR strategy focuses both on surveillance and prevention of antibiotic resistance, systematically identifying cases of frequent resistance in both humans and animals and communicating them to a national reference laboratory.

Animal and human medicine alike

Attitudes of those in the pork, veal and poultry industries need to change in order to permanently reduce antibiotic use in these sectors, the Federal Office for Public Health said.

“Animals in good health don’t need medicine,” said Martin Kaske of Switzerland’s Cattle Health Service in a statement, adding that it will be important to move toward more individual treatments established on the basis of systematic diagnosis, and preventative monitoring of herds.

The Swiss Farmers’ Union  and the Society of Swiss Veterinarians (German/French) said in a joint statement that the livestock and animal health sectors take these challenges very seriously, emphasising that the amount of antibiotics used in veterinary medicine has dropped by more than 40% since 2008.

But despite this decrease, the problem of antibiotic resistance has worsened in the same time frame, showing that reducing antibiotic use in agriculture alone isn’t enough. The two organisations therefore called for “firm measures in human medicine” as well.

Research – particularly by the Swiss National Science Foundation – also plays an important role in the StAR programme, and a national research programme dedicated to antibiotic resistance is already underway.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotics kill bacteria by interfering with their vital metabolism, but bacteria can evolve and develop new functions that neutralise the activity of the antibiotic. When antibiotics are misused or overused – for example, when they are needlessly prescribed or when a patient fails to complete a course of antibiotics – this can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In recent years, the number of infections that do not respond to antibiotic treatment has been increasing.

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