Drug-resistant infections could cause upto 10 mn deaths every year by 2050: CSE

New Delhi (NVI): Antibiotic-resistant infections could increase to 10 million deaths every year by 2050 – which would mean about 27,400 lives per day or about 1,140 lives per hour, according to Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Currently, these drug-resistant bugs lead to about 7,00,000 deaths a year globally.

These numbers, quoted by CSE today at a high-level webinar of experts on antimicrobial resistance, spell out how critical the problem is for the world today.

The webinar – titled One-Health Action to Preserve Antibiotics – was organised by CSE to mark the ongoing Antimicrobial Awareness Week, announced by the World Health Organization (WHO) from November 18-24.

Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, a top 10 global public health threat, according to WHO, which is raising awareness and promoting ways forward with this awareness week.

Risks arise when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and don’t respond to the drugs that have been developed to keep them in check.

Resistance is increasing, partly because antimicrobials have been overused since their discovery, and partly because poor sanitation and hygiene allow resistant strains to spread.

COVID-19 has added another layer, with antibiotics being prescribed to people around the world, even though it is caused by a virus, not by a bacteria, the WHO says.

In addition to this, AMR could also cost the global economy as much as USD 100 trillion between now and 2050, according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, IFPMA.

Opening the virtual meet of experts from across the world, CSE Director General Sunita Narain said, “Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, has emerged today as a full-blown chronic pandemic. At a time when the world is fighting the COVID-19 crisis, marking a week to build awareness on AMR is a welcome step.”

“It indicates that the world is waking up to this massive health crisis, that it is getting ready, because COVID-19 has taught us what havoc can be wrought by unprepared responses to a pandemic,” she added.

Narain further stated, “The AMR pandemic is a silent killer, but as grave a threat as climate change. This explains why it does not invoke panic among people, though the damage it causes is similar in scale to what the world is witnessing these days.”

Furthermore, she said, “It is clear that it is the developing world which is going to be hugely impacted by this threat. The world will never be able to contain AMR unless stakeholders from all sectors such as human health, animal, environment, crops, food and drug come forward and act as one, in the spirit of a true One-Health approach.”

CSE researchers say that a lack of dedicated budgets allocated by country governments for addressing AMR is another obstacle – this breeds dependence on donor agencies, says Rajeshwari Sinha, Deputy Programme Manager of CSE’s Food Safety and Toxins Programme.

“This indicates that the political commitment being talked about is still largely on paper,” she added.

CSE, which has been working for a few years now to understand this health threat, presented a set of recommendations at today’s webinar:

– Ban antibiotics in growth promotion
– Regulate over-the-counter sales of antibiotics and restrict mass disease prevention strategies (group preventative use)
– Limit the use of critically important antibiotics – preserve those with highest priority for human use
– Reduce the need for chemicals by focusing on animal husbandry, bio-security etc
– Reduce dependence on intensive systems of food production
– Manage waste from farms
– Bring in policies and guidelines on bio-security, sanitation, waste management etc
– Initiate surveillance and monitoring of waste and effluents, litter etc
– Introduce standards for antibiotics in waste needed – antibiotics in waste from commercial entities must be categorised as hazardous
– Increase capacity of environmental regulators

-CHL