A UK government-commissioned review of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)—antibiotics resistance is a part of this larger spectrum of drug resistance—has warned that it could kill as many as 10 million per year by 2050. Today, it kills over 700,000 a year globally. AMR has grown so rapidly over the last decade that the WHO had termed it a threat to global public health. Overuse of antibiotics/antimicrobials, coupled with improper calibration of dosage and duration of drug administration, has led to previously curable diseases like TB becoming nearly impossible to cure as the pathogen mutates to beat the drug and leads to emergence of superbugs such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The UK review posits that the worst impact of AMR will be on middle and low-income economies, like India, which already has the highest TB burden in the world. With resistance becoming increasingly common, even surgery could become life-threatening, warns the review.
There has been no new class of antibiotics discovered in the last couple of decades—certain strains of bacteria are already resistant to carbapenems, the most powerful available antibiotics against multi-drug resistant strains of bacteria—so there is a need to focus on that as a frontline measure. At the same time, the need is also to curb drug overuse and abuse—a 2011 WHO study showed that 53% of Indians were taking antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription. In India, the sale of carbapenems had increased to 3.8 standard units per 1,000 population by 2010, from 0.15 standard units in 2005—which shows how fast resistance is spreading. The UK review also recommends a crackdown on indiscriminate antimicrobial usage in agriculture, especially in animal husbandry and poultry, as farm animals have become a secondary route for antimicrobial abuse. The cost of all action to control AMR will amount to roughly $40 billion over the next 10 years whereas the cost of rising AMR in 2050 could be well over $100 trillion, warns the UK study