Antimicrobial Resistance - a threat to mankind !
Among the main causes of Antimicrobial Resistance, there is the overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics within human medicine, animal healthcare, livestock and plant care, as well as poor hygiene in hospitals and health care.
In future, a rise of AMR, could seriously threaten medical treatment of humans in general and make appropriate treatment of serious illnesses (operations, chemotherapy etc.) very difficult, almost impossible, or at least very expensive. The fight against AMR has been taken up on a global scale and addressed by the G7 as well as by the United Nations World Health Organisation.
EU measures to tackle AMR
The EU started to tackle this serious problem in 2006 by banning antibiotics as growth inducers in livestock. Subsequently, other measures have been added. On 29 June 2017, the European Commission issued the new EU One Health Action Plan against AMR.
Prior to the publication of this Action Plan, the European Parliament organised on 28 June 2017 a conference on the socio-economic aspects of AMR. The European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis addressed the meeting and presented the Action Plan. Other participants represented human medicine and health care, the pharmaceutical industry, the agricultural sector and veterinary medicine, the livestock food suppliers and public health authorities. Most touching was the testimony of a mother whose daughter died due AMR.
COMECE was invited to address this conference on the ethical implications of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) from a Christian perspective. Without denying existing conflicting interests, COMECE’s position resolutely stressed the obligation to protect the health and safety of human persons, including future generations. Their wellbeing must not be put at risk and carelessly sacrificed for the sake of profit and financial gain.
Ethical and structural dimensions of the issue
In his Encyclical «Laudato Si» Pope Francis calls us not only to understand the many facets of a particular problem, but to address this complexity and to act accordingly. Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), and consequently the fight against AMR is not a single-issue topic. It is deeply rooted within our healthcare and agricultural systems and impacts on food production, livestock and animal health as well as our personal human health. It therefore needs determination and concrete action to change people’s understanding of the problem and to change their way of thinking and their mindset. It starts with the awareness of the right (and limited) use of antibiotics in human health care, but also touches the system of our highly industrialized agriculture, mainly livestock for meat and dairy production. Giga-stables and huge numbers of animals reared unlimited space encourage farmers to use antibiotics as a prophylactic treatment to avoid animal diseases due to stress and overcrowding.
They also take advantage of the welcomed side effect that using antibiotics speeds up animal growth (since 2006 it has been forbidden to use antibiotics if the main aim is to fatten livestock). A simple application of the “the polluter pays” principle would be insufficient and would increase distortions between small scale farming and industrial farming.
The need for changes in attitudes and lifestyles
What sounds like a rather technical question – and without doubt appropriate healthcare for human beings as well as for animals is a technical issue – it is also an issue that poses pertinent questions and faces us with radical choices that deeply impinges on our current style of life: What kind of food consumption is sustainable, healthy, treats animals in a respectful way and does not see them as commodities, but as living beings and “co-creation”? How do we deal with our own health? Can we force our family doctor to prescribe an antibiotic, even if it is not recommended and in fact useless, just because we think/believe it might help – and in the end: we pay? Do we still believe, for every ill(-ness) there is a pill?
Together with other actors against AMR in the European Parliament, amongst them the Lithuanian MEP Laima Andrikienė, with Civil Society organisations and with other important players in this dossier like the consultancy PA International, the Secretariat of COMECE will follow this question (in all its dimensions) in more depth in the future and will try to create deeper awareness of this problem and the necessity to tackle it within the Catholic Church, in particular the Holy See.