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Superbugs could kill 1 person every 3 seconds

Antimicrobial resistance review published

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Unless global action is taken, drug-resistant infections look set to kill 10 million people a year by 2050 – 1 person every 3 seconds.

Lord Jim O’Neill’s Review on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), published today, sets out an action plan for the world to prevent drug-resistant infections and defeat the rising threat of superbugs. 

In this final report,* building on eight interim papers, the Review warns that without action we risk being ‘cast back into the dark ages of medicine’. 

The report notes that AMR is getting worse, with antimicrobial drugs becoming less effective, while the world fails to develop new ones to keep up. 

“The global costs if we do not take action now could be 10 million people dying every year by 2050, and a cumulative economic cost of around 100 trillion USD,” the Review warns. 

The report outlines a series of steps to combat the problem. These include: 

  • A “massive” global public awareness campaign so that, “patients and farmers do not demand, and clinicians and veterinarians do not prescribe antibiotics when they are not needed”.
  • Improve hygiene including proper hand washing to counter the spread of infections
  • Reduce unnecessary use of antimicrobials in agriculture
  • Improve global surveillance of drug resistance and antimicrobial consumption 
  • Promote development and use of vaccines and alternatives
  • Improve the numbers, pay and recognition of people working in infectious disease
  • Establish a Global Innovation Fund for early-stage and non-commercial research
  • Better incentives to promote investment for new drugs and improve existing ones
  • Build a global coalition for real action via the G20 and the UN

The paper suggests these actions could be paid for by allocating a “very small percentage” of G20 countries’ existing healthcare spending to tackling AMR, reallocating a fraction of global funding from international institutions to AMR, applying an antibiotic investment charge to pharmaceutical companies who do not invest in research for AMR, implementing a tax on antibiotics, and introducing transferrable “vouchers” to reward new antibiotics. 

The costs of action are dwarfed by the costs of inactions, states the review.

Lord Jim O’Neill said: “My Review not only makes it clear how big a threat AMR is to the world, with a potential 10 million people dying each year by 2050, but also now sets out a workable blueprint for bold, global action to tackle this challenge. The actions that I’m setting out today are ambitious in their scope – but this is a problem which it is well within our grasp to solve if we take action now. I call on the governments of the G7, G20 and the UN to take real action in 2016 on the ten proposals made by my Review, to avoid the terrible human and economic costs of resistance that the world would otherwise face.”

Responding to the report, Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “Growing resistance to antibiotics continues to be a global threat, yet astonishingly, there hasn't been a new class of antibiotics produced in over 25 years. 

“We agree with Lord O’Neill that more investment in the research and development of new drugs to tackle emerging diseases is desperately needed, and if offering incentives to pharmaceutical companies helps facilitate this, then it should be encouraged.  

“Healthcare professionals across the UK are taking warnings about inappropriate antibiotics prescribing very seriously, with recent figures revealing that antibiotics prescribing rates are at their lowest in five years. 

“But it is not only the healthcare sector that needs to play its part in reducing antibiotics prescribing - change needs to take place in agriculture and to tackle the overuse of drugs in farming.”

She added: “GPs also come under enormous pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics, so we need to do more as a society to make the public realise that prescribing antibiotics is not always the answer to treating minor, self-limiting illness and that the inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics will only serve to do more harm than good.

“The College has worked with Public Health England to develop the TARGET antibiotics toolkit to support GPs and other prescribing healthcare professionals to prescribe antibiotics appropriately.”


* Tackling drug-resistant infections globally: final report and recommendations. The review on antimicrobial resistance chaired by Jim O’Neill, May 2016.

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