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The burden of antibiotic resistance

There is a global consensus that antibiotic resistance poses a profound threat to human health. Yet crucial surveillance data are lacking in large parts of the world, which makes it difficult to get a full overview of the situation. Existing data show that resistance rates are increasing rapidly globally and with considerable differences between countries and continents.

The health burden of antibiotic resistance

In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the first global report on surveillance of antibiotic resistance. The report looks at data from 114 countries and reveals that antibiotic-resistant bacteria currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US alone. This is, however, the top of an iceberg as only seven selected bacteria were included in the report. Additionally, these figures only relate to deaths from infections caused by antibiotic resistance and do not include indirect causes of death. We also know that antibiotic resistance has particularly devastating consequences for the poor living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where, for example, treatment failure in pneumonia or bloodstream infections among children results in large number of deaths.

The Chief Medical Officer of England, Dame Sally Davies, has described the threat of antibiotic resistance as “…just as important and deadly as climate change and international terrorism.”

Globally, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance estimates that annual deaths attributable to antibiotic-resistant infections will rise from the current 700,000 to 10 million by 2050 if action to counter this crisis is not taken immediately. To put the figures in context, there are currently 8.2 million deaths a year from cancer. The macroeconomist and chair of the review, Jim O’Neill, has said in a statement: “We cannot allow these projections to materialise for any of us, especially our fellow citizens in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey) world, and our ambition is such that we will search for bold, clear and practical long term solutions.”

The economic burden of antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is also a huge economic burden for health care and society at large. The overall societal costs of antibiotic-resistant infections are estimated to be €1.5 billion per year in EU and up to $55 billion per year in the US. However, the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance claim that the true cost could increase up to$100 trillion (£63.68 trillion) by 2050. Again, estimates are hampered by lack of reliable data and Jim O’Neill claims that “As big as that number seems it almost definitely underestimates the economic cost.”

GLASS

To aid implementation of routine surveillance on a national and global level, the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (GLASS) was introduced by WHO in 2015. GLASS will be rolled out incrementally over the coming years and WHO aims for enrollment of 40 percent of its member countries by 2019. You can read more about GLASS in the infographic at the bottom of this page.

Find out more

Go to Downloads at the bottom of this step to access the full reports by WHO (including infographic) and the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, a factsheet on the burden of antibiotic resistance by ReAct and an infographic about GLASS.