Share the article

Policy  –  Elements of a plan

Rational use of antibiotics

All antibiotic use, whether appropriate or not, can promote the emergence of resistance in bacteria. Unfortunately, inappropriate and excessive use of antibiotics is common in both high and low income countries, and in both the human and animal sectors. To limit inappropriate use of antibiotics is crucial to preserve antibiotic effectiveness for both human and veterinary medicine.

Strategic objective 4 of the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance advises to optimize the use of antimicrobial medicines in human and animal health.

  • To reduce inappropriate use is key to keep antibiotics effective, and is an important element of a national action plan.
  • At the same time, a large proportion of the world’s population lack access to effective antibiotics. To increase access to antibiotics is therefore also essential, but this needs to take place within a framework of rational use. Read more about access versus excess here.

For some bacterial infections, antibiotics are life-saving medicines. Likewise, treatment with antibiotics is necessary for certain diseases in animals, in order to ensure survival, welfare, productivity, and to reduce spread of disease. The goal of rational use initiatives is not always to reduce antibiotic use, but instead to ensure that the use is appropriate.

Regulations to reduce inappropriate use

Enforcing regulations to control the distribution and use of antibiotics will be necessary to minimize the development of resistance and conserve antibiotic effectiveness for as long as possible. Which type of legislations that are most appropriate will differ between countries. Regulations must take into account the financial, structural and geographical obstacles to finding a balance between access and excess, particularly in low-income countries.

Poor provider knowledge and lack of guidelines

Poor provider knowledge and lack of treatment guidelines are important contributors to inappropriate use of antibiotics. Information about how to take action on the issue in health care and food animal production is collected in the RATIONAL USE focus area, and guidance on measuring appropriate use is presented in MEASURE: Appropriate use.

The animal sector

In the animal sector, governments are recommended to provide appropriate regulations on the authorization, manufacturing, distribution and use of veterinary products through their veterinary legislation. OIE has supportive guidelines in this area, and EU recently published a guideline on prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine. If possible, antibiotics should only be used after prescription by a veterinary professional. Also, it is recommended to consider the Code of Practice developed by Codex Alimentarius, the OIE list of antibiotics of veterinary importance, and the WHO guidance on the use of critically important antibiotics for human medicine.

Steps to optimize antibiotic use in food animal production includes to:

  • Phase out the use of antibiotics for animal growth promotion
  • Restrict routine use of antibiotics

These efforts must go closely together with efforts to improve disease prevention and control in food animal production.

Antibiotics crucial for human health

WHO, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the US FDA have taken steps to identify the antibiotics that are most ‘critical’ to human health, and to prioritize the reduction of their use in agriculture.

  • The WHO has established a categorization that focuses on the disease conditions treated by particular products, and the range of alternatives available. Substances are categorized into three groups: critically important, highly important, and important.
  • The EMA strategy adopts an alternative methodology based on a wider assessment of the risk of transmission of resistance from animals to humans.

Awareness in the community

Promotion of rational use of antibiotics in the community plays an important complementary role. Find more information in Elements of a national action plan – Awareness and understanding.

The resources below have been divided into the following tables:

  • Human sector
  • Food animals

Selected Resources

Human sector

Resource Description
WHO Model Lists of Essential Medicines Guidance. The WHO EML provides advise on which antibiotics that should be available to treat bacterial infections. To assist rational use, it categorizes antibiotics into 3 groups: Access, Watch and Reserve. There are separate lists for adults and children.
WHO list of critically important antimicrobials for human medicine Assessment and categorization of which antimicrobials are of highest importance to human health. Substances are categorized into three groups: critically important, highly important, and important.
Core Elements of Human Antibiotic Stewardship Programs in Resource-Limited Settings: National and Hospital Levels Methodology from US CDC providing a framework for implementing antibiotic stewardship programs in resource-limited settings. It covers a range of activities that a government or individual health facilities can implement based on the resources available. (PDF version, 3MB)
Global core standards for hospital antimicrobial stewardship programs, international perspectives and future directions Report from Leading Health Systems Network and CDDEP suggesting standards for rational use programs in hospitals. Includes checklists (also available in Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese) for hospital programs and identifies barriers to implementation with possible measures to overcome them. While overlapping with core components proposed by CDC and others, the checklists are designed to be applicable also in low-resource settings.
Optimal use of antimicrobial medicines in human and animal health Information portal on optimal use of antimicrobial medicines from the WHO.
Promoting Rational Use of Medicines: Core Components – WHO Policy Perspectives on Medicines, No. 005, September 2002 (PDF) Core components of rational medicines use presented in a publication from WHO. Discusses the problems associated with irrational use of medicines and sets out twelve core interventions that policy makers should consider to address the challenge.
The Pursuit of Responsible Use of Medicines: Sharing and Learning from Country Experiences Publication by the WHO, methods for the implementation of cost-effective and rational use policies for medicines are explored. The report includes a review of antibiotic stewardship policies and awareness raising campaigns from different countries.
Improving Medicines Access and Use for Child Health -A Guide to Developing Interventions Manual for those developing interventions to improve access to and use of medicines, including antibiotics, for child illness. Target groups: health policy makers, CSOs/NGOs and health care professionals. Contains guidance on all steps of the process, as well as examples of instruments and interventions. Special focus on low-resource settings.
Developing, Implementing, and Monitoring the Use of Standard Treatment Guidelines: A SIAPS How-to Manual Tool for developing and assessing use of standard treatment guidelines. End of document contains sample forms and surveys. Also provides links to useful additional documents.
Step-by-step approach for development and implementation of hospital and antibiotic policy and standard treatment guidelines Manual by WHO SEARO that focuses on the mechanism to develop a practical hospital antibiotic policy and standard treatment guidelines. It also contains information on national policies to contain antibiotic resistance.

Food animals

Resource Description
CODEX ALIMENTARIUS International Food Standards: Antimicrobial Resistance Standards for the responsible use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. The “Code of practice to minimize and contain antimicrobial resistance” (CAC/RCP 61-2005) describes the responsibilities for regulatory authorities, veterinary pharmaceutical industry, wholesalers, retailers, veterinarians and farmers. “Guidelines for Risk Analysis of Foodborne Antimicrobial Resistance” (CAC/GL 77-2011) gives guidance on assessing the risk to human health from foodborne antibiotic resistant bacteria, and determining appropriate management strategies to control those risks. Available in English, French and Spanish.
OIE Aquatic Animal Health Code Standards for improvement of aquatic animal health worldwide, to be used by the Competent Authorities. Guide to development and harmonization of national antimicrobial resistance surveillance and monitoring programmes for aquatic animals. See for example Chapter 6.5: Risk analysis for antimicrobial resistance arising from the use of antimicrobial agents in aquatic animals.
OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code Standards for the improvement of terrestrial animal health and welfare and veterinary public health worldwide. Intended for use by Veterinary Authorities. Chapter 6.11: Risk analysis for antimicrobial resistance arising from the use of antimicrobial agents in animals.
OIE list of antimicrobial agents of veterinary importance (PDF, 0.49MB) Assessment and categorization developed by OIE describing the most important antimicrobial agents in veterinary medicine. Substances are categorized into three groups: Veterinary Critically Important Antimicrobial Agents, Veterinary Highly Important Antimicrobial Agents and Veterinary Important Antimicrobial Agents. Provides specific notes on uses of different classes and specific diseases for which certain antimicrobials are of high importance, and considerations for their use.
WHO guidelines on use of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals Guidelines. WHO recommendations on antibiotic use in animals, and evidence base: Urges farmers and the food industry to stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals.
The Evolving Threat of antimicrobial resistance – Options for Action Policy brief. Options for action from WHO (predates the global action plan). Chapter 4 describes examples of policy activities that focuses on reducing antimicrobial use in animal husbandry in different parts of the world, with the aim of raising awareness and in particular to stimulate further coordinated efforts.
Guide to good farming practices for animal production food safety Manual for Competent Authorities assisting farmers and other stakeholders in keeping livestock to produce safe food. Spanish and French versions included.
Improving biosecurity through prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines in aquatic food production Report from FAO that discusses the use of veterinary medicines in aquaculture and gives examples of good practice and disease prevention measures.
Antibiotic resistance: what the agriculture sector can do (PDF)  Poster from FAO: What resistance is and what the agriculture sector can do.
Guidelines for the prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine (2015/C 299/04) Example guidelines from the European Commission that provide authorities and stakeholders with recommendations and practical examples for development and implementation of strategies to promote the prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine. Available in a number of languages.
FAO case study series: Tackling antimicrobial use and resistance in pig production Country examples describing work towards more prudent use of antibiotics in food animals. The first case study describes the Danish campaign to reduce antibiotic use in pig production. Includes monitoring of antibiotic use, initiatives made and lessons learned. Available in English, Spanish and Chinese.
Reduced and Responsible: use of antibiotics in food-producing animals in the Netherlands Country example. This leaflet outlines the Dutch policy on use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. It emphasizes the role of public-private partnerships, and presents key elements of the work, such as transparency and benchmarking of antibiotic use per herd and per veterinarian, improved herd health and clear reduction targets for antibiotic use.
A review of antibiotic use in food animals: perspective, policy, and potential Review that summarizes the literature on the role of antibiotic use in food animals in the development of resistance and its risk to human health. It also lists different guidance and policy documents on antibiotic use in the animal sector.
Restrictions on antimicrobial use in food animal production: an international regulatory and economic survey Journal article comparing governmental policies on antimicrobial use in food animal production, showing that antibiotic use differs widely, from no restrictions to strict restrictions.
Combating antibiotic Resistance: A Policy Roadmap to Reduce Use of Medically Important Antibiotics in Livestock Policy brief. Roadmap with 11 core policy recommendations aimed at a broad set of stakeholders: policymakers, food companies, institutional food purchasers (i.e. hospitals, schools and universities), and medical groups. The recommendations are divided into three key areas: 1) decreasing livestock use of medically important antibiotics; 2) monitoring livestock antibiotic use, and 3) enhancing surveillance and data integration to inform antibiotic resistance policy.
Global Antimicrobial Use in the Livestock Sector (PDF, 1MB) Report that includes an estimate of the order of magnitude of antimicrobial use, and the economic value of antimicrobial use in the livestock sector.