Superbugs will kill someone every three seconds by
2050 unless the world acts now, a hugely influential
The global review sets out a plan for preventing medicine
“being cast back into the dark ages” that requires billions of
dollars of investment.
It also calls for a revolution in the way antibiotics are used
and a massive campaign to educate people.
The report has received a mixed response with some
concerned that it does not go far enough.
The battle against infections that are resistant to drugs is
one the world is losing rapidly and has been described as
“as big a risk as terrorism”.
The problem is that we are simply not developing enough
new antibiotics and we are wasting the ones we have.
Since the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance started in
mid-2014, more than one million people have died from
And in that time doctors also discovered bacteria that can
shrug off the drug of last resort – colistin – leading to
warnings that the world was teetering on the cusp of a
The review says the situation will get only worse with 10
million people predicted to die every year from resistant
infections by 2050.
And the financial cost to economies of drug resistance will
add up to $100 trillion (£70 trillion) by the mid-point of the
The review recommends:
An urgent and massive global awareness campaign as most
people are ignorant of the risks
Establishing a $2bn ($1.4bn) Global Innovation Fund for
early stage research
Improved access to clean water, sanitation and cleaner
hospitals to prevent infections spreading
Reduce the unnecessary vast antibiotic use in agriculture
including a ban on those “highly critical” to human health
Improved surveillance of the spread of drug resistance
Paying companies $1bn (£0.7bn) for every new antibiotic
Financial incentives to develop new tests to prevent
antibiotics being given when they will not work
Promoting the use of vaccines and alternatives to drugs
The review said the economic case for action “was clear”
and could be paid for using a small cut of the current health
budgets of countries or through extra taxes on
pharmaceutical companies not investing in antibiotic
Lord Jim O’Neill, the economist who led the global review,
told the BBC: “We need to inform in different ways, all over
the world, why it’s crucial we stop treating our antibiotics
“If we don’t solve the problem we are heading to the dark
ages, we will have a lot of people dying.
“We have made some pretty challenging recommendations
which require everybody to get out of the comfort zone,
because if we don’t then we aren’t going to be able to solve
The Antibiotic Apocalypse
By James Gallagher, health editor, BBC News website
A terrible future could be on the horizon, a future which rips
one of the greatest tools of medicine out of the hands of
A simple cut to your finger could leave you fighting for your
life. Luck will play a bigger role in your future than any
The most basic operations – getting an appendix removed or
a hip replacement – could become deadly.
Cancer treatments and organ transplants could kill you.
Childbirth could once again become a deadly moment in a
It’s a future without antibiotics.
This might read like the plot of a science fiction novel – but
there is genuine fear that the world is heading into a post-
Continue reading: The Antibiotic Apocalypse
Eight years of hell
It is hoped the measures will prevent more people going
through experiences like Emily Morris from Milton Keynes.
She has regular urinary tract infections that do not respond
to some antibiotics and could cause kidney damage or even
She says: “With every sting and every pain, my heart sinks at
the thought of how many antibiotics I have left to use this
“I’ve had the struggle of living with
a resistance to antibiotics for
nearly eight years of my
life…there is a clear need for new
Chancellor George Osborne said:
“Apart from the moral case for
action, the economic cost of failing to act is too great to
“So I am calling on other finance ministries to come together
this year and, working with industry leaders and medical
experts, agree a common approach.”
Exactly how to encourage the drugs industry to make new
antibiotics has been a long running problem – there has not
been a new class of antibiotics discovered since the 1980s.
A new antibiotic would be kept on the shelf for use in
emergencies so a company could never make back its huge
research and development costs.
John Rex, from the antibiotics unit at AstraZeneca, said a
new way of paying for drugs, as proposed in the report, was
He argued: “Such models should recognise antibiotics as the
healthcare equivalent of the fire extinguisher – they must be
available on the wall at all times and have value even when
used only infrequently.”
Lord O’Neill also focused criticism on agricultural practices
that use antibiotics to boost the growth of animals, rather
than to treat their infections.
In the US, 70% of antibiotics (sold by weight) are for use in
Despite being in animals, the practice risks spreading
bacterial drug resistance to human infections as was
witnessed with colisitin resistance last year.
He also focused his ire on a lack of tests for infections that
see people pointlessly given antibiotics for viral infections.
“I find it incredible that doctors must still prescribe
antibiotics based only on their immediate assessment of a
patient’s symptoms, just like they used to when antibiotics
first entered common use in the 1950s,” Lord O’Neill said.
Bodies including the World Health Organization, the
Wellcome Trust medical charity and the UK’s Royal Society
all praised the report.
Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said the findings
were “definitely worth the urgent attention of global
But Dr Grania Brigden, from the charity Médecins Sans
Frontières, said: “This report is an important first step in
addressing this broad market failure, it does not go far
MSF said infections resistant to drugs were a threat to their
work around the world from the war-wounded in Jordan to
newborns in Niger.
Dr Brigden added: “The O’Neill report proposes
considerable new funding to overcome the failures of
pharmaceutical research and development, but the
proposals do not necessarily ensure access to either existing
tools or emerging new products.
“Instead, in some cases, the report’s solution is simply to
subsidise higher prices rather than trying to overcome
Prof Colin Garner, the chief executive of the Antibiotic
Research UK charity, said: “Looking at the problem globally
has its drawbacks since monies must be found from many
different sources to enact the recommendations, which
takes time to do.
“It would have been good to see recommendations for new
UK funds or government action which would tackle the
current problem in the UK.
“It is fantastic that the O’Neill team have highlighted the
challenges we face, but now we need to see action.”
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