Speech by Dr Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, on the occasion of the World Health Summit in Berlin
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Humanity has always been exposed to microorganisms. Most microorganisms are beneficial, some even indispensable to our health. And then there are those that cause illness and disease. For a long time, we were able to rely on antibiotics to combat dangerous bacteria. But not anymore. Our most powerful weapon in the fight against disease is rapidly losing its effectiveness: Resistent pathogens are spreading everywhere: in hospitals, in the water and even in our food.
The rise in antimicrobial resistance – or AMR for short – is one of the most pressing problems facing modern medicine. Where no treatment is available anymore, pathogens pose a dangerous threat. Even harmless infections can then have serious or even fatal consequences. And diseases that we believed we had eliminated can no longer be treated.
The consequences are deadly: In Europe alone around 25,000 people die each year of infections caused by resistant pathogens. Worlwide, it is more than 700,000 people, according to estimates by the World Health Organization.
As this problem affects so many aspects of our lives, our answer must be equally complex. Only if we all pull together, will we stand a real chance to counter AMR. International or even global cooperation is indispensable. The World Health Organization – known by its acronym WHO – has drafted the framework for such cooperation: the Global Action Plan on AMR. Professor Wieler talked about the 5 strategic objectives of this Action Plan. All of these goals are an important basis of our work. At the German Federal Research Ministry, we focus primarily on the second objective “to strengthen knowledge through surveillance and research”. But what exactly does this second goal mean in the context of global cooperation? For us, it means that we must ensure that a great many people have access to and can make shared use of resources such as research infrastructures and compound libraries. Knowledge needs to be shared across countries and sectors in order to achieve major research successes as fast as possible. Public and private sponsors need to join forces and develop new models and funding schemes together in order to provide targeted incentives to the research community.
We need regular exchange between all the stakeholders to be successful. Funding providers need to engage with researchers as well as international organizations and civil society. They benefit from the experiences gained in product development partnerships and hospitals. We all need to actively reach out to one another to find new ways of collaboration. The World Health Summit is the perfect opportunity to do so. The threat of antimicrobial resistance is once again on the agenda of the Summit – this is a clear indication of the urgent need to take swift action and continue the progress we have achieved.
Let me be clear about one thing: Research funding alone will not solve the problem. It is not enough to make money available and simply hope that novel treatments will be found against resistant bacteria. We have to change how we deal with the challenge of antimicrobial resistance. This is what the first objective of the Global Action Plan on AMR is about: “to improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance”. It is imperative that the common cold and other viral infections not be treated by prescribing an antibiotic. And even more so, antibiotics must not be used to fatten livestock. The responsible use of antibiotics must become a matter of course for every single one of us – whether working at a hospital, in a GP’s medical office or on a livestock farm. We need to coordinate our efforts at the national and international level and also take into account the needs of the global population that can differ greatly. In many parts of the planet, access to effective antibiotics is still the number one problem.
In research, too, it is crucial to break the silos and fully implement the one-health approach. We need goal-driven and solution-oriented research to address the pressing challenge of infectious diseases. This applies in particular to the threat posed by the growing number of resistant bacteria. Our responsibility is about humans, animals, agriculture and the environment. The pathogens that animals take in with their fodder or that cause them to become ill today, will end up on our plates the next day. The figures concerning AMR in pig sties and on chicken farms are alarming. Our responsibility for the health of both humans and animals, for sustainable agriculture and for the environment should set the course for a coordinated research funding approach. It should spark interdisciplinary collaboration between human and veterinary medicine and between the agricultural sector and environmentalism.
My Ministry, the BMBF, is already supporting relevant European and global activities in this context. One example is the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance or JPIAMR which is aimed at implementing the one-health approach. Under this collaboration, funding is provided for transnational projects on novel treatments, diagnostics and surveillance with regard to resistant bacteria.
Moreover, the BMBF played a major role in the establishment of the Global AMR R&D Hub. This overarching coordination instrument and international policy platform was an important outcome of the G20 Summit in 2017. It is a global initiative that is aimed at increasing international commitment to research on AMR and enhancing the coordination of these research efforts. The goal is to make more efficient use of resources in order to develop more new drugs and treatments to combat resistant pathogens. The Hub was launched in the spring of 2018. Its 15 member countries, the European Commission as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust will work to ensure the efficient and coordinated use of existing funding for research and development on antimicrobial resistance. Relevant international organizations such as WHO and the OECD are involved as observers and representatives from industry and civil society will participate in the Hub’s consultation processes.
Germany will maintain its strong commitment. We will continue to work towards ensuring the growth and operation of the Global AMR R&D Hub. The BMBF will provide up to 500 million euros over the next ten years to support the objectives of the Hub. And we will go on enhancing the global coordination of investment in R&D on AMR.
The importance of the issue of antimicrobial resistance is underpinned by the fact that it is not only the topic of today’s key note session and of one of the workshops but will also be discussed in the scientific track of the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting 2018 that is co-organized by Germany and involves a multitude of different stakeholders.
I very much look forward to our discussion and to hearing about the latest news on AMR. Allow me to conclude by asking you one thing: Please raise all the questions you may have and talk to each other! Let us tackle the challenge of AMR together.
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