Antibiotics are the linchpin of modern medicine. But their overuse in humans and animals has led to the development of microbes that are resistant to them. Now, it's getting harder to treat common infections like gonorrhea.
“People don't understand that when a person dies of multi-organ failure in a hospital, that was because the antibiotics didn't work for them,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy.
Globally, drug-resistant infections claim 700,000 lives a year. The scale of the problem prompted the United Nations to recently hold a forum on how to mitigate drug resistance.
If the human toll isn't reason enough to do so, there's also a compelling economic one. According to the World Bank, resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs could cause global economic damage on a par with the 2008 financial crisis. In a recent report, the World Bank spelled out a worst-case scenario where, by 2050, drug resistance would cut annual global GDP by nearly four percent.
Tim Evans, senior director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group said low-income countries would be hit hardest.
“That would mean an additional 28 million people falling into extreme poverty by 2050,” he said.
Evans said the global economy would suffer because the labor supply and livestock production would falter at the same time health care costs would spike.
Better antibiotic stewardship is needed to combat the problem, according to Elizabeth Jungman at the Pew Charitable Trusts. But she said we also need pharmaceutical companies to come up with new antibiotics but refrain from marketing them heavily so as to prevent their overuse.
“You really want to lock those in the medicine cabinet and wait until you really need them to use them,” she said.