The coming pandemic of superbugs
As more antibiotics become ineffective , millions of lives are at risk
Bacteria that are now resistant to medications directly killed roughly 1.2 million people in 2019 , according to the most comprehensive study on the subject to date , while the number of deaths associated with hard-to-treat pathogens stood at almost five million , meaning effective antibiotics could have saved all these lives in a single year .
Lower respiratory , bloodstream , and intra-abdominal infections were found to be the deadliest . While Western sub- Saharan Africa saw the highest death toll , the region comprising Australia , New Zealand , New Guinea , and the neighbouring islands had the lowest .
“ These new data reveal the true scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide ... Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from AMR by 2050 , but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought ,” said Dr Chris Murray , coauthor of the study and a professor at the University of Washington , according to Reuters .
The ability of pathogens , like bacteria , to become resistant to drugs over time , known as antimicrobial resistance ( AMR ), is a natural phenomenon as microorganisms learn to survive in harmful environments , usually through genetic mutation . But the process has been facilitated by a range of human practices , such as the overuse of antibiotics , lack of access to adequate sanitation , poor infection prevention , and lax control in healthcare settings .
The World Health Organization has now listed AMR as one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity due to the rising rates of resistance in a host of common infections previously treated effectively with antibiotics . Some of the most widespread include urinary tract infections , sexually transmitted diseases , and certain forms of diarrhoea .
To tackle the problem , the authors of the study put forward a series of wideranging recommendations .
“ First , the principles of infection prevention and control remain a foundation for preventing infections broadly and a cornerstone in combating the spread of AMR ,” they wrote in The Lancet . “ These include both hospitalbased infection prevention and control programmes focused on preventing health-care-acquired infections , and community-based programmes focused on water , sanitation , and hygiene .”
They also stressed the importance of reducing the use of antibiotics when not necessary for human health , such as when treating viral infections and in farming where the overuse of antibiotics to treat animals “ has been identified as a potential contributor to AMR in humans , although the direct causal link remains controversial .”
Finally , the study argues for more research funds to develop new antibiotics given that investment in the field has historically been small compared to other public health issues of similar or less impact .
However , a one-size-fits-all approach would not meet the needs of different regions , the authors caution . For example , while reducing use of antibiotics could work well in South Asia where both overuse and misuse are thought to be major drivers of AMR , the opposite is true in western sub-Saharan Africa where the availability of a wider range of antibiotics would help tackle AMR .
“ AMR is a global problem and one that requires both global action and nationally tailored responses ,” the authors wrote .
30 MARCH 2022 GlobalHealthAsiaPacific . com