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Antibiotic resistance – a silent threat

The Nordic Council Welfare Committee has just concluded a webinar debate with members of the European parliament, researchers and industry figures about antibiotic resistance.

The significant and ongoing increase in the use of antibiotics has led to a growing global problem in the form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. COVID-19 and its effects further underline the importance of the Nordic and EU countries taking action. Failure to make the right policy decisions now may have grave consequences in the decades to come. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could also pose a serious threat to the treatment of people infected with COVID-19. For these reasons, the Nordic Council invited members of other parliamentary bodies to a webinar (Antibiotic resistance – a silent threat in a noisy pandemic era”) to further discuss what concrete actions and measures must be taken next to deal with the threat of AMR in the light of COVID-19.

Call for Nordic cooperation

Bente Stein Mathisen, Chair of the Nordic Council Committee for Welfare in the Nordic region, and Nina Sandberg, Vice-Chair of the Committee for Welfare in the Nordic region, stated at the webinar that they like the Nordic countries to work together on a regulatory framework for the production of new antibiotics.

In the long term, the global death toll from antibiotic resistance may be higher than that of COVID-19, and the pandemic may well be the wake-up call we needed to do something about it, they stated.

“The consequences of antibiotic resistance are colossal, and in a pandemic context, they could be devastating to world health,” Bente Mathisen said at the start of the webinar.

In her presentation to the webinar, Professor Åsa Melhus of Uppsala University showed that by 2050 the global death toll due to antibiotic resistance will be much higher than the COVID19 death toll so far.

“By 2050 the global death toll due to antibiotic resistance will be much higher than the COVID19 death toll so far.”

Public-private partnership

It has been decades since the pharmaceutical industry produced new types of antibiotics. Anders Fallang of Pfizer AS pointed out that the regulatory frameworks for the industry make it difficult for manufacturers to convince themselves and investors that it would be worthwhile. “It’s a gamble. It takes time and costs money, and if the prospect of any return on investment is too small, people will invest elsewhere,” he said.

Bente Mathisen is willing to consider financial incentives to encourage the production of new antibiotics. Christel Schaldemose MEP (DK) backed that idea but called for a cost/benefit formula to make sure that governments recoup any investment if new types of antibiotics prove to be profitable.

Read more:  The potential of joint Nordic life science efforts

A wake-up call

At the webinar, COVID-19 was described as a wake-up call that shows how important it is that health agencies are geared up to meet needs in times of crisis – such as now with COVID-19 – but also in the future. Professor Gunnar Skov Simonsen of the University of Tromsø pointed out that COVID-19 has boosted awareness of health – health in general, preventive measures and the production of new medicines – all of which may have a positive impact on views of how important it is to combat antibiotic resistance.

“We are now focusing very much on the next pandemic. I believe however that the next international health crisis might be related to antimicrobial resistance and I hope that the COVID-19 crisis teaches us that it is better to be well prepared than having to plan and develop solutions while handling the crisis,” said Arne Flåøyen, Director of NordForsk, in a previous interview with Nordic Life Science.

Watch the Webinar here: Antibiotic resistance – a silent threat in a noisy pandemic era

Image caption: Clostridium difficile bacterium, 3D illustration. Bacteria which cause pseudomembraneous colitis and are associated with nosocomial antibiotic resistance. Photo: iStock