Rise of AMR could result in up to 10 million annual deaths by 2050: UN report

Some 24 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty due to rising AMR, the UNEP said

By Taran Deol
Published: Wednesday 08 February 2023
Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance meet in Barbados. Down To Earth Editor-in-Chief Sunita Narain is seen beside UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. Photo: @andersen_inger / Twitter

The dangerous rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could result in up to 10 million deaths annually by 2050. This would be on par with the 2020 rate of global deaths from cancer, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report released February 7, 2023, noted.

If unaddressed, the AMR threat could have an extreme economic toll, pushing 24 million more people into extreme poverty with a Gross Domestic Product drop of at least $3.4 trillion annually by 2030, the document added.

The spread of AMR means “antimicrobials used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants might turn ineffective, with modern medicine no longer able to treat even mild infections.”

The report — ‘Bracing for Superbugs: strengthening environmental action in the One Health response to antimicrobial resistance’ — was launched at the Sixth Meeting of the Global Leaders Group on AMR, held in Barbados.

“Increased use and misuse of antimicrobials and other microbial stressors, such as pollution, create favourable conditions for microorganisms to develop resistance both in humans and the environment from sources such as sewage,” the report noted.

Reduction of pollution in key sectors like pharmaceuticals, agricultural and healthcare is critical to contain the emergence, transmission and spread of superbugs, the UNEP report said. Superbugs are bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics.

Beyond human health and the agricultural sector, the influential role of environmental factors in the development, transmission and spread of AMR is finally being understood.

However, the scale of its contribution to the rise of AMR is yet to be gauged accurately. Climate change, characterised by a warming world and increasing extreme weather events, is another reason behind the rise in AMR.

Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said:

Pollution of air, soil, and waterways undermines the human right to a clean and healthy environment. The same drivers that cause environmental degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem. The impacts of antimicrobial resistance could destroy our health and food systems.

“Cutting down pollution is a prerequisite for another century of progress towards zero hunger and good health,” she added.

AMR is already among the top 10 threats to global health. Some 1.27 million deaths were directly attributed to drug-resistant infections globally and 4.95 million deaths worldwide were associated with bacterial AMR in 2019, the report noted.

“Using the ‘One Health’ approach, which recognises that the health of people, animals, plants and the environment are closely linked and interdependent, can successfully address AMR,” the UNEP report noted.

The report suggested multiple routes to reduce pollutants in pharmaceuticals, agricultural and healthcare sectors. These include:

  • Robust and coherent national level governance
  • Planning
  • Regulatory and legal frameworks
  • Improving integrated water management and sanitation
  • Integrating environmental considerations into AMR National Action Plans
  • Establishing international standards for what constitutes a good microbiological indicator of AMR from environmental samples and redirect investments
  • Establishing new and innovative financial incentives and schemes to reduce AMR

“Prevention is at the core of the action and the environment is a key part of the solution. Implementing comprehensive and coordinated strengthening of environmental action in the ‘One Health’ response to AMR will not only help reduce the risk and burden of AMR on societies but will also help address the triple planetary crisis,” the report noted. 

Read more:

DTE Coverage: World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2022

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