Paris: Millions of people in Europe, North America and Australia will die of extraordinary infections unless countries give priority to fighting the growing threat posed by bacteria that are immunized with the best-known drugs, experts said on Wednesday.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned of "disastrous consequences" for public healthcare and spending, unless it improves the basic hygiene of the hospital and reduces the unnecessary use of antibiotics.
Drug-resistant bacteria killed more than 33,000 people in Europe in 2015, according to a new study published this week.
In a landmark report, the OECD said that 2.4 million people could die from superbugs by 2050 and said that the cost of treating such infections would hit an average of US $ 3.5 billion (three billion) a year in each country included in its analysis.
Michele Cecchini, head of public health at the OECD, told AFP that countries have already spent on average 10% of their health care budgets to address AMR.
"AMP costs more than flu, more than HIV, more than tuberculosis, and it will cost even more if countries do not take action to tackle this problem," he said.
The huge death tax
As people consume more and more antibiotics – either with prescriptions or with agriculture and animal products with medication that prevents contamination – bacterial strains that resist the effects of drugs designed to kill them develop.
In low- and middle-income countries, resistance is already high: in Indonesia in Brazil and Russia up to 60% of bacterial infections are already resistant to at least one antibiotic.
And the increase in AMR infections is projected to be between four and seven times faster by 2030 than today.
"These high levels of resistance to healthcare systems, which are already weakening the limited budgets, will create the conditions for a huge death penalty that will be borne by newborns, very young children and the elderly," the report said.
"Even small cuts in the kitchen, small surgeries or diseases like pneumonia could become life-threatening."
Perhaps more worrying is the OECD's prediction that resistance to so-called 2nd and 3rd line antibiotics – emergency therapies – will reach 70% by 2030.
"These are the antibiotics that we do not want to use as far as possible, because we want them to back up," Cecchini said.
"Basically, we use more when we have to use less and we are exhausting our best choices in an emergency".
How to Avoid Destruction
The group, which advises the World Health Organization on initiatives in the field of public health, said that the only way to prevent the disaster was to apply direct changes at the level of sectoral behavior.
The report called on healthcare professionals to ensure better universal health standards in hospitals and clinics by insisting on staff washing hands and complying with stricter security regimes.
He also suggested that resistance could be counteracted by better and faster tests to see if an infection is viral – that is, antibiotics are useless – or bacterial.
New sponge tests can result in a few minutes, and Cecchini also suggested the idea of "delayed prescriptions" to reduce the excessive use of antibiotics, making patients wait three days before taking their antibiotics – about the time required for a viral infection to run its course.
In technical trials, two-thirds of patients who received delayed prescriptions for antibiotics never received their medication.
The OECD has said that these changes will cost only $ 2 (1.7 euros) per person per year and save millions of lives and billions of dollars by the middle of the century.
"They will reduce the weight of AMR in these countries by 75%," said Cecchini. "He will pay for himself in a few months and will bring significant savings."