Background: Europe is a continent with strong public healthcare systems, but diverging antibiotic policies and resistance patterns.
Aims: To describe the performance and methodological approach in a retrospective data collection effort (1997-2001), through an international network of surveillance systems, aiming to collect publicly available, comparable and reliable data on antibiotic use in Europe.
Methods: A central multidisciplinary management team co-ordinated a network of national representatives, liasing with national data providers and bodies responsible for antibiotic policy. The data collected were screened for bias, using a checklist. We focused on detection bias in sample and census data; errors in assigning medicinal product packages to the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification (ATC); errors in calculations of defined daily doses (DDD) per package; bias by over-the-counter sales and parallel trade; and bias in ambulatory care (AC)/hospital care (HC) mix. Datasets were corrected after national feedback, and classified as valid; valid but with minor bias; not valid.
Results: Of the 31 participating countries, 21 countries delivered AC data suitable for cross-national comparison (14 for all 5 years). Of these, 17 countries provided data on a quarterly basis for at least 1 year. For HC, 14 countries were able to deliver valid data (nine for all 5 years). A valid estimate of the total exposure of national populations to human antibiotic consumption could be made in 17 countries.
Conclusion: In cross-national comparisons of antibiotic consumption in Europe, methodological rigour in correcting for various sources of bias and checking the validity of ATC/DDD assignment is needed.
Copyright 2004 Blackwell Publishing Ltd