Sweeping Changes Urged to Avoid Mass Deaths From “Superbugs”

Worldwide death toll could reach 10 million by 2050, report warns

Ten million people could die by 2050 unless sweeping global changes are initiated to tackle increasing resistance to antibiotics, which can turn common ailments into killers, a new report warns. Commissioned by the British government, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance identifies steps that need to be taken to fight the emergence of “superbugs” around the world.

Antibiotic resistance “needs to be seen as the economic and security threat that it is, and be at the forefront of the minds of heads of state,” writes macroeconomist Jim O’Neill, who was appointed by United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron to lead the review.

The overuse of antibiotics can be reduced by cutting the vast quantities of medications given to farm animals, by improving diagnoses to stop unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, and by initiating a global public awareness campaign, according to the report. At the same time, researchers should be encouraged to develop new antibiotics through a global fund for research and through rewards for those who manage to develop new treatments.

The authors estimate that the total cost of such measures would be $40 billion over 10 years—far less than the cost if the growing problem is not addressed, the report points out.

“There is no excuse for inaction given what we know about the impact of rising drug resistance,” the authors warn, adding that governments will have to face the cost of drug-resistant infections “sooner or later.”

“They can either do so proactively by taking action now and pay less for better outcomes, or remain unprepared and end up spending much more taxpayer money on far worse outcomes further down the line,” the authors state.

The report argues that the response to antibiotic resistance could be funded through countries’ health budgets or through taxes on pharmaceutical companies that do not invest in antibiotic research.

O’Neill notes that one million people have died as a result of antimicrobial resistance since the review started in mid-2014.

The World Health Organization has already warned that antimicrobial resistance may result in “a return to the pre-antibiotic era,” when millions of people died in pandemics before drugs were discovered that could treat them.

Sources: Medical Xpress; May 19, 2016; and Review on Antimicrobial Resistance; May 2016.