By 2040, a co-ordinated, global effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has saved millions of lives around the world. Microbes responsible for many common illnesses had mutated into ‘superbugs’ resistant to conventional drugs – antimicrobials – threatening to undo decades of progress in improving health outcomes. But the tide has been turned and AMR has been halted, if not put into retreat.
The successful campaign against AMR has bought precious time for medical science to develop new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for emerging or previously untreatable diseases. More efficient treatment of neonatal sepsis, malaria, HIV and tuberculosis has driven down the crippling impact of these diseases. Healthcare services now have increased capacity to treat other health conditions, with fewer patients contracting untreatable infections during time in hospital.
The situation could have been very different. Overuse of antimicrobial drugs was making them ineffective against the bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites responsible for a host of diseases. In 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 2.8M antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the US each year. This led to more than 35,000 deaths annually. Meanwhile, the UK government’s 2016 review on AMR predicted that by 2050 drug-resistant diseases would cause 10M additional deaths per year worldwide, with a cumulative global economic cost of US$100trn.
But instead populations are healthier, worldwide, as a result of the fight against AMR, which has focused on preventative healthcare, including more active lifestyles, better diets and improved hygiene. In low- and middle-income countries in particular, life expectancy has increased and maternal and child mortality rates are significantly lower. Clean drinking water, effective sanitation and greater food security have driven down rates of common diseases and banished widespread gastrointestinal illness; fewer children suffer from stunted growth and school attendance has risen steadily, boosting educational attainment. In the adult population, employment is less disrupted and productivity has increased.
Improved health enables individuals to thrive and prosper – and economies too.
This is how.