Bern, 09.11.2018 - Maintaining the effectiveness of antibiotics for humans and animals, and combating resistance - these are the two main objectives of the national Strategy on Antibiotic Resistance (StAR) which is being implemented by the federal authorities in partnership with physicians, pharmacists, veterinarians and farmers. Launched in 2015, the strategy is already producing results: for example, the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine has been halved. In human medicine, uniform prescribing guidelines are now in force throughout Switzerland. With a public information campaign, the federal authorities aim to further raise awareness of the importance of using antibiotics correctly.
The development of antibiotics is among the most significant achievements of modern medicine. Thanks to these drugs, conditions such as pneumonia or septicaemia which in the past were often fatal can now be effectively treated. However, if antibiotics are overused or misused, bacteria develop resistance and the drugs lose their effectiveness. This increases the risk that certain infections in humans or animals could become difficult to treat or even untreatable.
If the effectiveness of antibiotics is to be maintained, not only are efforts required on the part of professionals, but patients and animal owners also need to use these drugs responsibly. Surveys have shown that gaps remain in the public’s knowledge. With a nationwide campaign, the federal authorities therefore intend to inform the public about the importance of antibiotics, the risks of bacterial resistance, and the correct use of these drugs in humans and animals.
The campaign - expected to run for four years - is being launched across Switzerland with TV ads, posters, online advertising and a campaign website. With slogans in three of the national languages, animated figures explain the importance of using antibiotics carefully - and the potential consequences of resistant bacteria for humans, animals, agriculture and the environment.
Strategy on Antibiotic Resistance (StAR)
The campaign is part of the national Strategy on Antibiotic Resistance (StAR) launched by the Federal Council in 2015. It is being implemented by the four federal offices responsible for public health (FOPH), food safety and veterinary medicine (FSVO), agriculture (FOAG) and the environment (FOEN) in partnership with stakeholders. A total of 35 measures have been adopted to date, and significant progress has been made.
In veterinary medicine, the volume of antibiotics sold is now half what it was ten years ago, thanks to a variety of measures; for example, dispensing of certain antibiotics has been restricted, and treatment guidelines and information materials have been prepared. As a result, awareness of this issue among veterinarians and domestic animal owners has been further increased in recent years. In addition, from 2019, a national information system to record antibiotic prescribing in veterinary medicine should gradually make it possible to gain a more precise overview of the use of antibiotics.
In the agricultural sector, awareness has also been raised among livestock farmers. A number of agricultural associations, together with veterinarians and farmers, have launched prevention programmes to improve animal health, since healthy animals do not require antibiotics. These prevention programmes are being financially supported by the Federal Office for Agriculture. Efforts in this sector are reflected by the fact that antibiotic consumption has declined since 2008.
As regards human use, the responsible medical societies have produced uniform national prescribing guidelines. The medical profession (GPs and specialists) are called on to apply these guidelines in their treatment decisions. The guidelines define when antibiotics should be used and include information on selection of the appropriate drug, as well as the recommended dosage and duration of treatment. In addition, a new website (www.infect.info) gives physicians an overview of the latest regional susceptibility data.
The Swiss Antibiotic Resistance Report, covering a two-year period, shows that antibiotic consumption for the population as a whole has decreased slightly compared to the previous reporting period. Consumption decreased by around 5 per cent in outpatient care and around 10 per cent in hospital care. According to a survey of GPs, antibiotics were prescribed in 29 of 1000 consultations in 2017 - a substantial reduction compared to the period 2006-2013, where the annual figures ranged from 34 to 40 prescriptions per 1000 consultations.
In Swiss surface waters, antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been detected in isolated cases. While some of these bacteria occur naturally in this environment, the rest enter lakes and rivers with wastewater. Today, wastewater treatment plants already eliminate up to 99 per cent of these microorganisms. In addition, the ongoing programme to upgrade selected plants with additional treatment steps will ensure that releases of these organisms can be further reduced.
This year, to focus the attention of professionals and the public on the risks of growing bacterial resistance and the importance of careful use, another World Antibiotic Awareness Week is being held by the World Health Organization (12-18 November); in Switzerland, various stakeholders are organising panel discussions, training events, guided tours or booth activities.