New Delhi: Around 2.4 crore people could be forced into extreme poverty, mainly in low-income countries, due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and the annual economic damage it will cause could be comparable to the shocks experienced during the 2008-09 global financial crisis, a landmark UN report said Monday.
The UN’s Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance said drug-resistant diseases already cause at least 7 lakh deaths globally every year — this figure could go up to one crore deaths by 2050.
The report specifies that antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiprotozoals are the four kind of drugs under consideration.
“There is no time to wait. Unless the world acts urgently, antimicrobial resistance will have a disastrous impact within a generation,” it said.
The report said alarming levels of antimicrobial resistance have been reported in countries of all income levels.
It added that about 24 lakh people could die in high-income countries between 2015 and 2050 due to AMR.
In some member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, about 35 per cent of common human infections are already resistant to currently available medicines. In some low- and middle-income countries, resistance rates are as high as 80 to 90 per cent for some antibiotic-bacterium combinations, said the UN report.
The report cited dramatic increase in healthcare expenditures, impact on food and feed production, trade and livelihoods, and increased poverty and inequality as reasons for its economic warning.
The UN panel was set up in the wake of a high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance in 2016.
What is AMR?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change in ways that render the antibiotics used to cure the infections they cause ineffective.
“When the microorganisms become resistant to most antimicrobials they are often referred to as “superbugs”. This is a major concern because a resistant infection may kill, can spread to others, and imposes huge costs to individuals and society,” says WHO.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a broader term, encompassing resistance to drugs that treat infections caused by other microbes as well, such as parasites (in case of malaria or helminths), viruses (HIV) and fungi (Candida).”
Status of AMR in India
India is known as one of the largest consumers of antibiotics — one of the drugs mentioned in the report — in the world.
Its antibiotics consumption has increased by 103 per cent within a period of five years starting from 2000 to 2015, said a study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a US journal, released last year.
The study found that “India had the largest increase in antibiotic consumption in low- and middle-income countries and also surpassed America’s antibiotic consumption rate for oxazolidinones”.
“The average amount of antibiotics consumed by 1,000 inhabitants in India every day also increased 63 per cent between 2000 and 2015,” said the PNAS study.
A 2018 report by The Telegraph said, “In most big city hospitals, where babies with sepsis are referred, common antibiotics are no longer effective. More than 80 per cent of some types of bacteria causing sepsis in babies are multidrug-resistant — immune to nearly all antibiotics.”
UNICEF data suggests that sepsis was responsible for the deaths of over 6,40,000 babies — not even a month old — in India in 2016.
“Doctors are having to administer “last-line” antibiotics, normally given only in emergencies, as the first drug. It was estimated in a study in 2016 that resistant infections kill more than 58,000 babies in India every year, though the author of the research said this was a vast underestimate,” said the Telegraph report.