Antibiotic Resistance Could Kill 300 Million People by 2050

Blister packs containing pink and white capsules stacked with blister packs containing blue and white capsules.

A UK government report estimates that by 2050, antibiotic resistance may kill 300 million people. (Image: Artinun Prekmoung via Dreamstime)

A report commissioned by the UK government estimates that by 2050, antibiotic resistance will kill 300 million people if no action is taken. The annual global death toll will reach 10 million, and up to US$100 trillion (£64 trillion) will be lost to the global economy by 2050.

The issue goes far beyond health policy, and on a strictly economic basis, it makes sense for governments to act now, the report argues. Health systems economist from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Richard Smith says that the report’s figures are likely to be underestimated. “It takes into account effects on labour productivity and labour workforce issues, but we don’t know what the public reaction will be. From previous pandemics and outbreaks, we know behavioral effects can be much worse on an economy than the impact of the disease.”

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Antibiotic resistance will lead to at least 300 million deaths by 2050.
Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and a dead human neutrophil. (Image: NIAID via flickr)

“One of the things that has been lacking is putting some pound signs in front of this problem,” Michael Head at the Farr Institute, University College London, UK, told Anthony King at Chemistry World, who is hoping for a similar response to when HIV came about. “The world was slow to respond [to HIV], but when the costs were calculated, the world leapt into action.”

“You can look at antibiotic resistance as a slow moving global train wreck which will happen over the next 35 years,”

says health law expert Kevin Outterson at Boston University, U.S. “If we do nothing, this report shows us the likely magnitude of the costs,” reported Scientific American.

Few market incentives for new antibiotic development

Outterson led the Chatham House report on new business models for antibiotics that found there was a problem of inadequate market incentives. He went on to say: “If I came out with a new cardiovascular drug, it could be worth tens of billions of dollars a year,” he says. “But if we had the same innovative product as an antibiotic, we would save it for the sickest, and it would sell modestly in the first decade. So market uptake is extraordinarily limited for innovative antibiotics, and all for excellent public health reasons.”

Scanning electron micrograph of neutrophil ingesting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
Scanning electron micrograph of neutrophil ingesting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. (Image: NIAID via flickr)

“Developing new antibiotics will take many years, and we cannot wait,” said Dr. Ursula Theuretzbacher at the Center for Anti-Infective Agents in Vienna, Austria. “In the meantime, we decided we need to improve the usage of some selected old drugs that had not been in use for many years.” Trials on five drugs that were developed before the 1980s are being funded by the EU.

Bacterial antibiotic resistance is a greater threat than Ebola

“When we understand a threat, governments respond with energy and with money,” Outterson says. The U.S. agreed to spend over $5 billion fighting Ebola. “The threat posed by bacterial resistance is even greater than that of Ebola,” he adds. “If this report accurately predicts the world we live in in 2050, then we will have failed on a monumental scale to preserve a global public.”

I think this serves as a wake-up call to us all on how we look after our health in every way.

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