World Health Day: fight against antimicrobial resistance must continue on a global scale

8 Apr 2011 12:20 PM

This year's World Health Day focuses on the growing threat of potentially deadly bacteria developing resistance to antimicrobial drugs - especially to antibiotics. The Commission joins the World Health Organisation in calling for strengthened efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance, which is a global health hazard. In the Union alone, it is estimated that drug resistant infections cause more than 25,000 deaths and 1.5Bn€ in extra healthcare costs every year1.

In a joint statement, Commissioner for Health and Consumers, John Dalli, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs said: "On the occasion of the World Health Day, we wish to raise awareness of the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance. Antibiotics, have led to a revolution in medicine, allowing us to treat previously deadly bacterial infections and save many lives. However, these gains are now in jeopardy as the overuse and misuse of antimicrobial agents have led to a steep rise in resistant organisms and infections, causing unnecessary deaths and suffering and generating avoidable healthcare costs. Following on from the 2001 'Community Strategy against Antimicrobial Resistance', the Commission has developed a series of initiatives to tackle this issue. The success of many modern treatments, including organ transplants, cancer therapy and care of preterm babies depends in part upon effective solutions to the problem of antimicrobial resistance. So under the Seventh Framework Programme for research, the EU is funding work on prevention and control, aiming among other things to identify new resistant organisms, develop new drugs, provide faster diagnostic tests and analyse the effects of clinicians' prescribing practices. More needs to be done and the Commission is currently developing a new strategy. Health is also a right for all people in the world. With a yearly budget of €700 million euro, it constitutes a key area of action for the Commission. We are supporting developing countries to strengthen their health systems and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Notably through the €1bn MDG initiative launched this year."

A new strategy

In November 2011, to coincide with Antibiotic Awareness Day, the Commission is planning to present a new strategy addressing all sources of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and their potential impacts. It will address public health, food safety, consumer safety, environment, animal health and welfare as well as non-therapeutic use of antimicrobial substances.

Research and Innovation

On the occasion of World Health Day a brochure showcasing EU-funded research projects on AMR from 2007-2010 is made available.

Tackling AMR requires investing in research and innovation. The EU has prioritised research in this field, supporting numerous research projects for a total amount of approximately €300 million since 1999. Priorities include developing novel medicines and therapies, defining the optimal use of existing antimicrobial drugs, developing diagnostic tools, monitoring the spread of resistance and basic research on pathogenic organisms.  EU-funded projects have helped better understand resistance mechanisms and identify novel antimicrobial compounds that may lead to future drugs. The knowledge generated by this research not only contributes to improving human health but also stimulates innovation and competitiveness in Europe.

International cooperation

As AMR is a global health threat, the European Commission is involved at international level in various ways. In addition to its active participation in international initiatives that address veterinary medicine and food safety, in 2010 the Commission and the United States of America set up a Transatlantic Task Force on AMR (TATFAR). By the end of 2011, this task force will present recommendations for strengthened EU and US cooperation in human and veterinary medicines to tackle this threat.

The Commission also supports the World Health Organisation, and notably its Regional Office for Europe, in building up capacities and efforts against AMR at international level.

Health and Development

In the last decade, health policy has gained a prominent position internationally and health aid has quadrupled amounting to over €16 billion. Yet, the lack of progress on health Millennium Development Goals in the poorest countries and the growing challenges of globalization call for a strong EU global health vision, voice and action.

The EU funding for health is provided to more than 80 countries worldwide. The European Commission's substantial annual health budget is approximately €682 million. It includes around €220 million for vaccination programmes and €100 million support for Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.


World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April to mark the founding of the World Health Organisation. Each year, the Organization selects a key health issue, and encourages people from all ages and backgrounds to hold events that highlight the significance of this issue for good health and well-being.

This year's theme is antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial agents are used to eliminate micro-organisms, including bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. They are mainly used to treat infections, to disinfect, to maintain hygiene or to preserve products. Resistance occurs when the micro-organisms develop mechanisms that render antimicrobial agents ineffective. When the micro-organisms become resistant to several classes of antimicrobial agents, they are referred to as “multi-drug-resistant”. Resistant bacteria can spread via many avenues including human-to-human, animal-to-animal, from animals to humans, and from the environment to animals and humans via the food chain. Resistant infections can be deadly and they can spread, resulting in huge costs to individuals and to society. This phenomenon is facilitated and accelerated by the excessive and inappropriate use of antimicrobial agents.

European Antibiotic Awareness Day takes place on 18 November every year since its launch in 2009. It is coordinated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and aims to raise awareness about the risks related to the inappropriate use of antibiotics and how to take antibiotics responsibly.

Information on AMR





International action





Information on World Health Day


Information on EU Research


Brochure - EU-funded research on AMR from 2007 to 2010