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Superbugs could kill a person every three seconds by 2050

Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
It would affect the most common surgeries.
  • Aamna Mohdin
By Aamna Mohdin


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

A failure to tackle antimicrobial resistance would put 10 million lives at risk each year by 2050—that’s one person every three seconds.

Antibiotics underpin modern medicine. They’re essential for vital medical procedures and treatments for humans and animals. But antibiotics have slowly been losing their effectiveness because of their overuse and misuse. A new report by economist Jim O’Neill, who was tasked with chairing the government review on antimicrobial resistance (pdf), warns of an antibiotic doomsday scenario if world leaders fail to stop the rise of drug-resistant infections.

The scale of the problem can no longer be denied, as a staggering one million people died from drug-resistant infections in the 19 months it took to do the review, according to O’Neill. (That’s 700,000 over a year.) The report also warns the economic cost of doing nothing about antimicrobial resistance; it could spiral to $100 trillion a year by 2050.

The drug resistances of most concern were E. coli, malaria, and tuberculosis. The report calls for a “fundamental change” in the way antibiotics are prescribed and consumed.

First, there needs to be a dramatic reduction in global demand for antibiotics. The report recommends a global public awareness campaign so patients and farmers do not demand antibiotics, and clinicians and veterinarians do not over-prescribe it. There will also need to be a global campaign to improve hygiene, global surveillance, diagnostics, and to develop vaccines and alternatives when possible.

The report goes on to emphasize the importance of increasing the number of effective antimicrobial drugs to defeat infections that have already developed resistance. In the last few years, there’s been a decline in the research and development of new antibiotics in the pharmaceutical industry. To reverse this decline, the report recommends a so-called “pay or play” funding option, which would force pharmaceutical companies to either resume or strengthen research and development of new antibiotics or fund other companies to do so.

Unsurprisingly, the pay or play proposal was rejected by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

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