Superbugs could kill 10 million people a year by 2050, report warns

A review on antimicrobial resistance warns that superbugs could kill 10 million people a year by 2050, but outlines ways we can prevent or lessen the threat

In July 2014, the UK government commissioned the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to address the ever-growing concern that superbugs, resistant to current antibiotics, could eventually evolve to the point that our drugs simply don't work. The report's findings were released this week, including a comprehensive action plan to prevent the world being "cast back into the dark ages of medicine."

Economist Jim O'Neill, the Chairman of the Review on AMR, predicts that superbugs, if left unchecked, could kill up to 10 million people per year by 2050, equivalent to one person every three seconds. The report outlined 10 areas where the world needs to take action to prevent or lessen the threat, and suggested strategies to do so.

The most immediate suggestion involves setting up a global public awareness campaign on the problem as soon as possible, coordinated between industry, government and non-government organizations, with a potential formal launch at the UN General Assembly in September.

Over-prescription is a major contributing factor to the issue, and the report recommends that the world reduces the use of antibiotics, and tighten restrictions on when they should be prescribed. This should slow the evolution of bacteria and viruses, and make our current drugs effective for longer.

As existing antibiotics inevitably become ineffective, however, new ones need to be able to take their place. And although we've seen some promising developments, the review calls for additional funding and rewards from bodies like the G20 to incentivize researchers to develop new drugs, as well as encourage more people to enter the field professionally.

The report also pointed to overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, where they are given to animals, often unnecessarily, when they could be vital to humans. Cutting back on these, as well as our own use, could be instrumental in maintaining our current stocks until replacements can be developed.

Of course, these methods and incentives won't come cheap, and the report outlines how these guidelines could be paid for. A "very small percentage of G20 countries' existing healthcare" could go towards funding this goal, and implementing a tax on antibiotic use and pharmaceutical companies who don't invest in AMR research could help raise capital as well as discourage wasteful prescription.

According to the paper, the cost of action is estimated to be US$40 billion over 10 years, but it makes clear that the cost of inaction will be far greater: up to a staggering $100 trillion, not to mention the widespread loss of life.

With international cooperation critical to any approach, the report calls on the World Health Assembly, G7, G20, and the UN to deliver the policy proposals recommended in the report and turn them into action.

Source: AMR Review

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