Unmasking the threat of antibiotic resistance – our $100 trillion risk

Antibiotic resistance and its damage on vulnerable communities is hidden from the public, despite it being a global health crisis. Young generations have the most hope in enduring health standards, writes Ayumi Wijesooriya

Nov 30, 2021, updated Nov 30, 2021
Image: Raimond Klavins/Unsplash

Image: Raimond Klavins/Unsplash

Honorary Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester, Jim O’Neill, paints a picture of the not-so-reassuring future with the over-prescription and misuse of antibiotics.

“There is 100 trillion dollars worth of economic harm if we allow the current situation to develop unchallenged, with up to 10 million deaths per year by 2050,” O’Neill said.

“We might be back to an era where a simple cut from shaving or gardening, could result in an untreatable infection.”

Consultant Infectious Diseases Physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, David Paterson, said antibiotic resistance had a substantial impact on social stability in developing countries, many of which already had fragile health systems.

“More than 20,000 babies in low/middle income countries will die each year from infections due to antimicrobial resistant bacteria,” Paterson said.

A report produced by the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP) revealed 18.4 per cent of hospitalised deaths in Uganda were due to antibiotic resistant illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Paterson said the only way forward was to cultivate good hygiene practices and minimise antibiotic use for viral infections, to reduce the “pressure” on mutant bacteria that become resistant.

NHMRC Australia Fellow and Professor of Chemical Biology at the Institute of Molecular Bioscience, Professor Matt Cooper, highlighted the sad truth about a business-orientated world’s capacity to address the problem.

“The bottom line is, no one really cares about new antibiotics and superbugs, and there is no money in it,” Cooper said.

“Oncology, cardio and other drugs make a lot more money than antibiotics, which are priced very low and only used for 2-3 weeks, even though they save lives.

“Without effective antibiotics, not only would there be far more deaths than COVID-19, but routine surgery such as hip and knee replacements would no longer be possible, and many people would lose limbs, or lives, as was the case before antibiotics.”

Mansfield State High School student, Yentl Palm, has a passion for the implementation of antimicrobial resistance education in school curriculums.

“It is up to us, and future generations, to find solutions to the issue because it may eventually be impossible to keep up with,” Palm said.

Another Mansfield State High School student, Isabelle Carnes, says ‘antibiotic resistance’ should be integrated into curriculums for students to learn about pressures on society and future challenges.

“In my experiences studying chemistry, physics and biology, the issue is not addressed at all, causing students to be left unaware,” Carnes said.

Adolescents are commonly neglected when it comes to health crises.

However, Head of Primary Care Unit at Public Health England, Professor Cliodna McNulty, said targeting and addressing young generations is the most logical approach in transforming societal norms and behaviours which are severely altering the human microbiome.

Ultimately, the community hopes this contemporary yet masked issue comes to light through the aspirations of youth, to endure health security.


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