PARIS: Millions of people in Europe, North America and Australia will die from superbug infections unless countries focus on the growing threat posed by the bacteria that are immune to the most commonly known drug, experts predicted on Wednesday.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned of "devastating consequences" on public health care and spending, unless it promotes basic hospital hygiene and unnecessary reductions in antibiotic use.
Drug-resistant bacteria in Europe killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, according to new research published this week.
In the economic report, the OECD indicated that 2.4 million people could die of superbugs by 2050 and said that the cost of treating such infections in each country would be $ 3.5 billion per year (€ 3 billion) per annum in each country.
Michele Cecchini, OECD head of public health, told AFP that countries have already spent on average 10% of their health care budgets for the treatment of antibiotic-resistant (AMR) damage in the past.
"AMR costs more than flu, more than HIV, more than tuberculosis, and it will cost even more if countries do not take measures to address this problem," he said.
As people are taking more and more antibiotics – either with prescriptions or agricultural and livestock products that receive medicines to prevent infection – bacterial strains that counteract the effects of drugs aimed at killing them develop.
Countries with low and middle income already have high resistance: in Indonesia, Brazil and Russia, up to 60% of bacterial infections are already resistant to at least one antibiotic.
It is anticipated that by 2030 the increase in AMR infections will be between four and seven times faster than at present.
"Such high endurance rates in healthcare systems that are already weakened by limited budgets will create conditions for a massive death squad, which is mainly covered by young people, very young children and the elderly," the report said.
"Even small pieces of cuisine, small surgery or diseases such as pneumonia can become life-threatening."
The problem that the resistance of the so-called line 2 and line 3 antibiotics – in case of an emergency infection treatment break glass – is likely to be worse is the 70% increase by 2030.
"These are antibiotics that we do not want to use as much as possible, because we want them to be duplicated," said Cecchini.
"Basically, we use more if we should use less and we have the best opportunities in an emergency."
How to avoid a disaster
The group advising the World Health Organization on public health initiatives said that the only way to avoid a disaster is to implement an immediate change in behavior across the industry.
The report called on healthcare professionals to ensure better use of general hygiene standards in hospitals and clinics, insisting that all workers wash their hands and observe more stringent safety regimes.
It also suggested that resistance can be addressed with better and faster testing to determine if the infection is a virus, that is, antibiotics are meaningless or bacteria.
New swab tests can yield results within minutes, and Cecchini also puts forward the idea of "late recipes" to dent antibiotics overuse, forcing patients to wait three days before taking their antibiotics – about the time it takes for a virus infection to run the course.
In these methods, two thirds of patients who were late in prescribing antibiotics had never collected drugs.
The OECD noted that such a change would cost only $ 2 (€ 1.7) per person per year and would save millions of lives and billions of dollars by the middle of the century.
"They would reduce the burden of AMR in these countries by 75%," said Cecchini. "It will cost you a few months and generate significant savings."