The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance issued a new study, led by the famous economist Jim O’Neill, which predicts that our reliance on antibiotic medications may cause 300 million premature deaths worldwide and cost the global economy around £64 trillion by 2050 if appropriate action is not taken by the world’s governments.
Furthermore, the continuing rise of drug-resistant bacteria may decrease the global GDP by 0.5% by 2020 and will end up 1.4% smaller by 2030.
“One of the things that has been lacking is putting some pound signs in front of this problem,” said Michael Head at the Farr Institute of University College London, who compared the current situation to how the HIV epidemic was finally dealt with. “The world was slow to respond [to HIV], but when the costs were calculate the world leapt into action.”
After surveying the distribution of research and development funds, Head found that the UK spends only a marginal amount of available money to tackle the problem at hand. According to his estimation, of the £2.6 billion allocated for infectious disease research, just £102 million were being used to combat antimicrobial resistance. Other studies show that between 2008 and 2013 Europe and the UK assigned less than 1% of all research funds for antibiotic research.
Richard Smith, a health systems economist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, noted that these numbers are more likely to be underestimated than vice versa: “It takes into account effects on labour productivity and labour workforce issues, but we don’t know what the public reaction will be. From previous pandemics and outbreaks we know behavioural effects can be much worse on an economy than the impact of the disease.”
An Australian management consultancy firm KPMG assessed the future impact of AMR (Antimicrobial Resistance). Researchers at the firm modelled the health impact that Klebsiella pneumonia, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria could have in the future. Their scenario looked at what would happen if resistance to these pathogens rose to 40% of today’s levels and the number of infections around the world would double. Results showed that malaria resistance would be the most deadly, while E. coli infections would be the most taxing on national budgets due to their high capacity to spread.
“You can look at antibiotic resistance as a slow moving global train wreck, which will happen over the next 35 years,” remarked health law expert Kevin Outterson from Boston University, US. “If we do nothing, this report shows us the likely magnitude of the costs.”
One of the proposed solutions is to sanction pharmaceutical companies to make their new drugs available only to those who need them most. To make up for the loss in profits, governments would help them pay back their research and development costs by paying for access to these drugs.
Another option is to put old antibiotic medications back on the market. An EU-funded project, AIDA, is currently conducting clinical trials on several drugs made before the 1980s to see if they can be put back on the market.
“When we understand a threat, governments respond with energy and with money,” added Outterson. “The threat posed by bacterial resistance is even greater than that of Ebola. If this report accurately predicts the world we live in in 2050, then we will have failed on a monumental scale to preserve a global public good.”
Original research article: Jim O’Neil, December 2014, Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations, Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.