A new first-of-its-kind study published in The Lancet examines the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) around the world. AMR occurs when different types of pathogens grow resistant to existing antibiotics and other treatments, or become “superbugs.”
The study found that drug-resistant bacterial infections caused at least 1.27 million deaths globally in 2019. That is more than the global death toll of HIV or Malaria. Drug-resistant bacterial infections were also associated with almost 5 million deaths worldwide in 2019—that is close to the total deaths worldwide from COVID-19 so far during the pandemic.
In all, the study examined 23 pathogens and 88 pathogen-drug combinations across 204 countries and territories. Among some of the deadliest was meticillin-resistant S aureus, or drug-resistant MRSA, which caused more than 100,000 deaths alone. The study found lower respiratory infections to be the most burdensome syndrome in drug-resistant infections.
“AMR is a leading cause of death around the world,” and “a major global health problem,” according to the study authors.
These latest numbers reveal the magnitude of the AMR threat and reinforce the urgent need for action. Now more than ever, it is critically important for global policymakers to address antimicrobial resistance.
In order to fully address AMR, we need two things to happen: First, we must be more judicious in our use of antibiotics—and only use them when they appropriate and needed. There is progress on this front, especially in hospitals where the worst infections are encountered, with the rise of hospital antimicrobial stewardship programs. Second, to keep pace with ever-increasing rates of resistance, it is necessary to have a robust pipeline of new antimicrobial medicines. This means continually developing new and innovative antimicrobial treatments that are aimed to treat pathogens as they grow resistant. However, the pipeline for new antimicrobial medicines is crumbling due to unique challenges of the antimicrobial marketplace.
In the United States, lawmakers are considering legislation to address some of these challenges. The PASTEUR Act would create a new subscription-style model through which the government would pay upfront for access to new antimicrobials rather than linking payment & sales volume, and it would also increase resources for critical antibiotic stewardship programs around the country. The DISARM Act would modernize how Medicare reimburses hospitals for appropriate use of innovative antimicrobials and improve patient access to novel treatments. These two policies are complementary, and critically needed in the near term to stabilize and sustain the antimicrobials ecosystem and avoid further preventable deaths from antimicrobial resistant infections.
We have learned so much about pandemic preparedness and global public health management from COVID-19. It is time to turn these lessons learned into action. AMR is a growing silent pandemic, and we must confront it now with robust policy solutions, rapid research and development, and appropriate access to novel products—before it’s too late.
You can learn more about the threat of AMR at www.WorkingToFightAMR.org.