Antimicrobial resistance poses a significant threat to humanity as a study reveals it has become a leading cause of death worldwide and is killing about 3,500 people every day.
More than 1.2mn people died worldwide in 2019 from infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to the most comprehensive estimate to date of the global impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The stark analysis covering more than 200 countries and territories was published in The Lancet, the prominent peer-reviewed general medical journal.
It says AMR is killing more people than HIV/Aids or malaria. Thousands of deaths are occurring due to common, previously treatable infections, the study says, because bacteria that cause them have become resistant to treatment.
Clearly, the report highlights an urgent need to scale up action to combat AMR, and outlines immediate actions for policymakers that will help save lives and protect health systems.
These include optimising the use of existing antibiotics, taking greater action to monitor and control infections, and providing more funding to develop new antibiotics and treatments.
Study co-author Professor Chris Murray, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, USA, said, “These new data reveal the true scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide, and are a clear signal that we must act now to combat the threat.
“Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from antimicrobial resistance by 2050, but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought. We need to leverage this data to course-correct action and drive innovation if we want to stay ahead in the race against antimicrobial resistance.”
Estimates of the health impacts of AMR have been published for several countries and regions, and for a small number of pathogen-drug combinations in a wider range of locations.
The report estimates deaths linked to 23 pathogens and 88 pathogen-drug combinations in 204 countries and territories in 2019.
Statistical modelling was used to produce estimates of the impact of AMR in all locations – including those with no data – using 471mn individual records obtained from systematic literature reviews, hospital systems, surveillance systems, and other data sources.
Disease burden was estimated in two ways: deaths caused directly by AMR (i.e. deaths that would not have occurred had the infections been drug-susceptible and therefore more treatable), and deaths associated with AMR (i.e. where a drug-resistant infection was implicated in deaths, but resistance itself may or may not have been the direct cause).
The World Health Organisation has described antibiotic resistance as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” and said that although the phenomenon occurs naturally, misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
Antibiotics are sometimes needed to treat or prevent bacterial infections. But the overuse and misuse of antibiotics — such as in the treatment of viral infections like colds, which they are not effective against — has helped some bacteria evolve to become resistant to them.
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