Minister Schippers opens conference on antibiotic resistance

Ladies and gentlemen, excellencies,

Welcome to The Hague. Welcome to this international conference on antibiotic resistance.

And a special welcome to:

•          Madame Chan and mr Fukuda of the World Health organization

•          Mr Wang of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

•          Mr Vallat of the World Animal Health organization

•          And it is a great honour to welcome Her Excellency Dr Mboi, minister of Health from the Republic of Indonesia.

She agreed to co-chair this conference with me. It shows the commitment of the Indonesian government to our cause: the battle against antibiotic resistance.

Also I would like to introduce to you my colleague mrs Sharon Dijksma, minister of agriculture.

[Short introduction by Sharon Dijksma]

Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, excellencies.

We are gathered in this historic place where people from all over the world fight for peace and justice. The International Peace Palace would not have been here without the joint effort of many countries.

Countries that found common ground in their will to make the world a safer place.

And today, you travelled from afar to fight for a similar cause: our future health. We are here to talk about a threat that is evolving slowly but progressively. A threat that could lead to the end of modern healthcare.

To a post-antibiotic era where people die of common infections. Where routine operations will be extremely dangerous. Even impossible.

So there’s a lot at stake. And just as working on world peace can only be achieved when the whole world is committed, the fight against antibiotic resistance demands worldwide action too.

But first, let me present to you someone who knows our topic from experience.

In the Netherlands, she is well known as a tv-host, actress, writer and former topmodel. Please welcome mrs Daphne Deckers:

[Speech Daphne Deckers]

Thank you Daphne.

Ladies and gentlemen, if a mother of two teenagers, in the prime of her life, is at risk, we are all at risk. And Daphne, I’m so glad you could share your story with us today. You represent an unknown number of people that go through the same after they get a common infection: longer treatments than we were used to in the past. Hospital admissions instead of taking medicines at home. Last resort antibiotics with severe side effects.

At least they are lucky to survive.

The number of people that don’t survive is impressive. As was stated by the ECDC: in Europe alone, 25.000 people die from infections with resistant bacteria. Every year. People whose doctors stood empty handed. The bacteria were stronger than the drugs.

So there’s a huge burden on patients. There’s the loss of lives. And there are the billions of avoidable costs in healthcare.

Ladies and gentlemen, we know bacteria don’t make a difference between countries and between species. So neither can we.

That is why the title of this conference is Joining Forces for Future Health.

This means:

•          Joining forces between countries.

•          Joining forces between the health sector and the agricultural sector.

•          Joining forces between governments and private partners.

Joining forces is only possible if we find common ground. Of course this is not easy. We all are from different backgrounds and cultures. Different economies and healthcare-systems. For instance: we need to acknowledge that some of us still struggle to give people access to basic healthcare.

Too many people don’t even have access to antibiotics when they need them desperately.

That is why I believe that national action is the cornerstone of our joint effort. National action, guided by the Global Action Plan. The plan we have committed ourselves to, last month at the World Health Assembly.

That is why we are gathered here today: to create input to this Global Action Plan. To make sure that our actions speak louder than our words.

In my opinion three steps are essential.

•          First: we have to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases – and thereby the use of antibiotics. In our healthcare facilities ánd in our veterinarian sector.

Infection prevention is achievable by all. Relatively simple measures render great effect. Measures like hand hygiene are essential to prevent resistant bacteria to enter our health care facilities.

If this is true, why then do we still accept doctors to ignore basic hygiene principles?

How can we, each in our own situation, reduce the occurrence of healthcare related infections?

It is just one of the many questions we have to ask ourselves.

Even in the Netherlands, where the resistance rate is one of the lowest in Europe, we have to constantly be aware of these basic principles. Even in our hospitals and healthcare facilities, we have recently seen outbreaks of multi-resistant bugs. Being satisfied with your own results, turns out to be dangerous as well.

•          Second: I think we should use antibiotics in a prudent and restrained way. Again both in healthcare ánd agriculture. This means that antibiotics should not be used for viral infections, only after proper diagnosis, only on prescription and under national surveillance. With peer systems for medical professionals.

And - when it comes to agriculture – it is my firm belief that we should ban the use of our last-resort antibiotics in animal husbandry all together. These precious medicines are our common heritage. We should treat them as such.

Now, I know that for a lot of countries agriculture is a major economic pillar. I know there is the fear of economic losses. I know from experience.

You may not realize it, but the Netherlands, small as we are, is a world player in this field. We are the second largest exporter of agricultural products, next to the United States.

As my colleague mrs Dijksma just said:

We were the number one of heavy users of antibiotics in Europe. We too made the mistake of using antibiotics rather than optimizing the living conditions of our livestock. Only in three years time we managed to change the course drastically. And: without ruining the sector! We are still the number two in agricultural export!

•     Last but not least: we need new drugs and we need them fast. No new class of antibiotics has been discovered since 1987. It is clear that there is no incentive for the industry to invest the money and time needed.

And although I understand the precautious attitude of some, I firmly believe we cannot afford to wait for the industry to solve this. We simply are running out of time.

Completely resistant bacteria are emerging worldwide as we speak.

Carbapemens - one of our last resort antibiotics to treat infections with multi-drugresistant bacteria – are rapidly losing effectiveness. These bacteria are the common cause of lung infections, bladder infections and bloodstream infections.

It reminds me of the question mrs Daphne Deckers just posed: what if we lose our last resort antibiotics? What happens after that...?

I believe it is our job as politicians to work together with our private partners. And today I want to start the discussion on the need for setting up a global product development partnership for new antibiotics.

This requires serious effort and investment. And political courage at the global scale. But we can build on existing initiatives.

For instance in the field of neglected infectious diseases and the Innovative Medicines Initiative of the European Union.

Ladies and gentlemen, I come to my conclusion.

In the past century, antibiotics saved the lives of millions and millions of people.

They added about 20 years to our life expectancies. If we lose these precious medicines, the lives of millions are in danger.

We are the generation of politicians that will be held accountable.

The world looks at us, at this conference, at our efforts and actions.

I hope you share my ambitions:

•          finding solutions for the problem of the development of new antibiotics;

•          finding ways for prudent use of antibiotics;

•          improve infection prevention in human and veterinary medicine.

We need to share our knowledge, share our experiences, share our best practices.

We need to join forces, acknowledging that we live in one world. That we share one health. A cause worth fighting for.