(ORDO NEWS) — Antibiotic resistance is often seen as the “problem of the future”, but recently published data has shown that it affects many more lives than you might think.
In fact, new estimates show that there were 4.95 million deaths associated with antimicrobial resistance in 2019, making it the third leading cause of death globally.
Drugs that kill bacteria are undoubtedly one of the greatest discoveries of mankind. Ever since Alexander Fleming discovered the antibacterial activity of the fungus Penicillium in 1928, we no longer have to worry about dying from rosebush scratches or gonorrhea. In the decades that followed, antibiotics saved millions and millions of lives around the world.
But bacteria developed resistance to antibiotics long before we started using them, as they are natural bioweapons for warfare between microbes. The constant use of the same antibiotics over and over again gives bacteria the opportunity to adapt to them even faster, leading to more infections that no longer respond to traditional (or even recent) antibiotics.
Unfortunately, the more bacterial species that do not respond to antibiotics, the more patients will be susceptible to resistant infections – and researchers are sounding the alarm: We currently lose more people each year to antimicrobial resistance than to HIV/AIDS or malaria. .
“These new data show the true extent of antimicrobial resistance worldwide and send a clear signal that we must act now to fight this threat,” said University of Washington health economist Chris Murray, co-author of the new study.
“Previous estimates predicted 10 million annual deaths from antimicrobial resistance by 2050, but now we know for sure that we are already much closer to this figure than we thought. We need to use this data to adjust actions and stimulate innovation if we want to stay ahead in the race against antimicrobial resistance.”
The researchers analyzed data from 23 different bacterial species (including E. coli, S. pneumoniae, and S. aureus) and 88 microbe-drug combinations from 204 countries. This resulted in 471 million infection records, which were then used to create statistical models to estimate the extent of antimicrobial resistance.
The group explored two counterfactual scenarios. In the first of these, all drug-resistant infections were replaced with no infections, which the team explained was in line with the number of deaths associated with antimicrobial resistance.
In the second scenario, they replaced all drug-resistant infections with drug-susceptible infections, allowing an estimate of the number of deaths directly caused by antimicrobial resistance.
The team concluded that in 2019, 4.95 million deaths will be attributable to drug-resistant bacterial infections, of which 1.27 million deaths will be directly caused by antimicrobial resistance – a huge burden in all regions of the world, but it is especially strong affects low- and middle-income countries.
These calculations showed that stroke and heart disease alone accounted for more deaths than antimicrobial resistance that year.
The authors note that, to their knowledge, this is the first time such a global assessment has been carried out. Since there are gaps in data from some parts of the world and serious difficulties in monitoring antimicrobial resistance, their modeling has some limitations. But the conclusion is clear: we have a serious global health problem.
“The threat of antimicrobial resistance has been signaled for a long time. And the steps needed to combat antimicrobial resistance – raising public awareness, improving surveillance, improving diagnostics, more rational use of antibiotics, access to clean water and sanitation, the implementation of the concept of” One Health “Investment in new antimicrobials and vaccines has been consistently recommended. But action has been sporadic and uneven, leading to a global disparity in antimicrobial resistance,” the editors of The Lancet add in an editorial accompanying the study.
“Innovation is extremely slow. Vaccines are available for only one of the six leading pathogens described in the study. The clinical line of antibiotics is too small to cope with the growing emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.”
The authors of both the editorial and the original study urge country leaders to place the issue of antimicrobial resistance high on their agendas. Without urgent action, they warn, we will see even higher levels of preventable deaths in the coming years.
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